Point/Counterpoint: Should we lower the voting age?
Two DI columnists discuss whether the voting age should be lowered.
May 8, 2019
Voting requires maturity
There has been a lot of energy put behind the consideration of lowering the voting age in recent months. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., is pushing for the voting age to be 16 years old, instead of the 18 in place. She said young people are the trailblazers of current issues in the nation, leading the way in gun-violence and climate-change movements and calls to action from government officials and politicians. Thus, she argues, she believes they should have a say in who represents them in office.
It is true that in recent years, younger individuals such as those involved and leading the March for Our Lives Movement have been making significant headway in gun-control reform and calling attention to serious issues such as gun violence. They have done their research and are prepped and ready to talk to real government officials and politicians to make a change in the nation. But consider this — their brains are still at the antepenultimate stage of development in life.
“The development and maturation of the prefrontal cortex occurs primarily during adolescence and is fully accomplished at the age of 25 years,” according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Their brains are still on the fast track to develop, and they are increasingly susceptible to influence from those people they see who hold authority. So yes, they are putting an amazing amount of energy behind serious conversations about gun control and climate change, and that energy should continue. However, what concerns me about lowering the voting age is the inherent influence their parents, teachers, and others have on their candidate support.
Think about it. When I was 16, almost everyone I knew at school had the same political views as their parents, still unable to come up with a complete original thought about why they supported a candidate who was running for office. For that, I’m thankful that I, along with my peers, were unable to vote, as understanding your true alignment with a party and the policies you want to see carried out by our government is of the utmost importance, rather than supporting someone just because mommy and daddy said so.
16-year-olds deserve a voice
Let’s get something out of the way first.
Lowering the voting age is objectively an electoral advantage for Democrats, who have stronger support among younger people. And of course, Republicans have an incentive to fight any change that would make it harder for them to win elections. But let’s put all that aside and consider this topic in good faith.
Most objections I hear about lowering the voting age to 16 relate to perceptions that they aren’t smart enough to make good voting decisions. But is that really a fair thing to say? There are plenty of stupid people in the world. I know people who think vaccines cause autism and that former President Obama is a communist Muslim. If we’re actually concerned with having an intelligent and discerning electorate, arbitrarily excluding some young people isn’t going to do much to help.
A related counterargument is that these potential new voters will just vote the same way as their parents because they don’t know better. Again, this insults the intelligence of these people who are capable enough to drive and even buy a rifle in some states. What’s more is that voters already tend to vote the same way as their parents. In general, the political ideology of one’s parents will greatly influence one’s own politics.
Things are even worse if you consider a tax-paying citizen who happens to be under the current voting age.
How unfair is it that a sophomore in high school pays taxes on a part-time job and doesn’t have a say in how those taxes are used? If you can pay into the government, you should have a voice in the government. An American 18 and over can vote while doing as little as they want to contribute to society, but a high-schooler who works 20 hours a week, volunteers, and is engaged in the community has no official say in how our government is run.
If we’re going to have a country of and by the people, we need to include all the people, not just those who remember dial-up internet and the Taco Bell dog.