The voting age in the United States has been changed once, and now Oregon is trying to change it again. Originally citizens had to be twenty one to vote, but in 1971 the Twenty-Sixth Amendment was ratified to lower the age to eighteen. This was done because lowering the age to eighteen would allow those drafted in Vietnam to be able to vote. This new amendment, while stating that eighteen year olds had a right to vote, did not limit the age to eighteen within individual states. Many cities and a few states have seen this non-restrictive age for legislation as an opportunity to test whether the voting age should be lowered to sixteen. Although the concept of a younger generation taking the big leap to join the democratic process seems desirable, the intention is not as reliable or fair as perceived.
Oregon is one of many states that currently has a bill in progress that would lower the voting age to sixteen by the next presidential election. Many states have already lowered voter registration to sixteen. However, Oregon wants to take it one step further and allow sixteen year olds to participate in the voting process. Shemia Fagan, the Portland based Democratic state senator, feels that the next generation should be able to have “a chance to participate in the ballot about decisions that affect their homes, their clean air, their schools and, as we’ve seen, their very lives.” While there is no doubt that that many sixteen-year-olds are capable of that responsibility, the argument against lowering the age is the lack of education that sixteen-year-olds have around their government.
“I was not taught about the specifics of voting until my senior year of high school” says Alysa Wulf, a junior at the University of Oregon. Many schools within Oregon teach about the United States government in grade twelve. The average twelfth grader is eighteen years old, indicating that at the age of sixteen, students will likely not have had the proper education to make an informed decision. Wulf believes that the younger generation should technically be able to vote at the age of sixteen. However, it may not be fair due to the lack of education she and other students have had. “I understand that legislation affects those who are under 18, and thus minors should have a say in what is passed, but based on my education I do not think it would currently be fair to allow sixteen year olds to vote,” says Wulf. While there are plenty of sixteen year olds who understand the political system and are fighting for their rights, the majority of them have never received that education, which leads to a misinformed process.
Eighteen, a turning point for many, is the age that bridges teens to adulthood. However, it is also the point at which many more legal responsibilities are placed on an individual. The age signifies more than just a number, it is also a status of maturity. While some may argue that sixteen-year-olds are just as mature, the fact is the government does not see it that way. At eighteen, one can enlist in the military, get married, enter legal contracts and being able to vote. Wulf states that the ability to vote was “added to the list of privileges that made her feel like [she] was truly an adult whose opinion was valid and mattered.”
Voting is a responsibility that needs to be taken seriously, and many even at the age of eighteen do not understand the full impact of their votes. “We tend to be heavily influenced by our friends and our parents,” says Chiara Grasso, a seventeen-year-old. In fact, in many states all across the U.S. there are new bills being proposed to raise the ages for legal responsibilities. In Oregon and five other states, smoking tobacco is now illegal to those under the age of twenty one instead of eighteen, while in other states there are debates on whether driving ages should also be raised. These changes are being put in place because teens are really not developmentally ready. In many states such as Florida, Connecticut, and District of Columbia, many drivers have to be eighteen to receive their full license. This is because young teens are most likely to crash, putting them at risk. If states are collectively starting to raise smoking and driving ages, wouldn’t it be smart to stick to that pattern for other legal responsibilities?
Voting is an essential part of the democratic process in America. While it is important for the younger generation to step up and advocate for what they believe in, it is also important to acknowledge those who have no clue that there are three branches of government. The voting age should not be lowered because the education system does not set teens up for success later.
If we can create a more robust curriculum for teens in their high school about their government and teach them the implications of their votes, then maybe in the future changes of the voting age could be discussed. However, for now, we need an educated, bright, and prepared generation ready to take the next steps, not flustered and confused high schoolers who are just trying to work through the system.