The Voting Age: Should It Be Lowered?

The Voting Age: Should It Be Lowered? August 26, 2019

In the run-up to the 2020 Presidential Election Democrats and Republicans all over the country are debating a variety of issues. One issue that comes up from time to time is the possibility of lowering the voting age. The purpose of this article is to discuss that idea, explain why I’m in support of lowering the voting age.

Voting is something we should all do, but many of us face real, structural, obstacles to exercising our right to vote. Credit for this image: Pixabay.
Voting is something we should all do, but many of us face real, structural, obstacles to exercising our right to vote, especially because of voting age. Credit for this image: Pixabay.

Even if we disagree, which is fine because frankly, I understand why people might hesitate on this issue or even be opposed to it altogether, I hope that this starts a conversation and gets people thinking. I want us to seriously consider what sort of impact might we have on our political system if we decide to lower the voting age.

Why Do I Support Lowering The Voting Age?

I support lowering the voting age. I’ve never been afraid to discuss this stance before and I have done so in the past. Generally, I support lowering it to 16, but I know that some people (including Marianne Williamson) support lowering it to 17 and I’d be happy taking an incremental approach and seeing the results of lowering it nationwide to 17 for an election cycle or two and then going from there. Personally, I’m more in-line with Andrew Yang and others on this issue because I feel as though 16-year-olds who want to vote ought to be able to do so.

I’m in support of lowering the voting age primarily as a moral issue. This stance of mine has since intensified since seeing Congresspeople like Senator Diane Feinstein dismiss young activists who were trying to persuade her to vote in favor of the Green New Deal, specifically a 16-year-old who couldn’t vote because of the minimum voting age. It’s worth noting for the sake of fairness that that wasn’t the only reason why the teenager’s pleading wasn’t taken as seriously as it should have been but we cannot and should not dismiss the real power that lowering the voting age would give to young people who have been treated less than ideally by the elected officials who ostensibly represent them. Politically engaged students deserve respect and to be taken seriously, not to be judged or worse, limited, on the basis of their age.

Speaking as a humanist I’d rather live in a world where young people are treated as equally important to politicians as other people are, and not just seen as political props to be used by shrewd lawmakers or sometimes by their own families. I don’t think we should frame how seriously we take someone and what rights are afforded to someone, especially on issues as important as voting, on the basis of their age. Especially because the role they can take in changing these rules is, by virtue of the rules themselves, at best a limited or supporting role.

I hope to hear more humanistic takes on this issue, and I know that the conversations this begins will be intelligent ones that I can learn from and that hopefully, other people will learn from as well.

What Would Happen If We Lower The Voting Age?

Lowering the voting age isn’t a silver-bullet solution that fixes the persistent and dangerous inequalities that plague our elections. A Berkeley article makes this clear, in order to have long-lasting positive effects on our society we need to come up with fuller solutions than just the lowering of the voting age. We need a comprehensive voting rights plan, but that shouldn’t prevent us from attempting to fix what we can, nor should this need scare us away from acknowledging and attempting to correct injustices.

That said if we do lower the voting age we give people more opportunities to participate in our democracy, which should be enough in and of itself to convince many people that this is worth doing even without knowing that once people vote they tend to continue voting. If we agree that it’s unjust to prohibit someone from voting who turns 18 on an election year just because they weren’t born before election day on an election year, why should we believe that it’s any less unjust to prohibit someone who turns 17 on an election year from voting? And why is it that we all feel comfortable allowing 18-year-olds to vote but not 16 or 17-year-olds? Is there actually a real reason, especially a valid and society-wide reason?

There are many different reasons why someone might say that they oppose lowering the voting age to 16 or 17. But if we’re basing this off of some “objective” scientific standard of psychological development than it’s difficult to really make that case.

I’m unsure as to what significance that one year or two years will or would make on a society-wide level when 16-year-olds are evidently largely considered to already have mature cold-cognition abilities which are the cognitive faculties related to voting. The article I just linked was written by Laurence Steinberg, an American psychologist specializing in child and adolescent psychological development, the article uses an understanding of psychology to make the case for lowering the voting age. Another article that discusses this from a science-oriented point of view is this one from The Sydney Morning Herald which features Professor Nick Allen who is an Australian professor of clinical psychology with the University of Oregon.

If we lower the federal voting age to 16 we correct a systemic injustice that currently affects all young people in our country regardless of race, religion, class, gender, and sexuality.

For the sake of being comprehensive, I’ll say that there are other reasons to oppose lowering the voting age but those are as far as I’ve heard at least, ultimately more subjective. I can understand why someone would say they’d oppose lowering it if they were worried about young voters being “independent”, but in real life what would that look like? If we were consistent about this, how would we enforce it? Could only people who don’t live with their parents’ vote? Could only people who are registered as members of another party vote? How do we determine independence in this context, is it based solely on age?

Are we worried about people’s “knowledge” of the electoral process? Does that mean that we test all potential voters? Because it’s not just young people who may or may not know a lot about the electoral process friends. If we’re worried about “maturity”, how do we test that? And do we enforce this concern about “maturity” in all areas or only as a tactic to oppose voting rights? Because if someone’s not mature enough to vote, how does that affect their other areas that require mature decision-making?

I can understand why people are worried about the power of new, young voters to skew an election one way or another but that cannot be a reason to deny their rights to vote.

I think it’s time we lower the voting age, and I’m quite excited to note that other people agree with me, including at least one Republican lawmaker. I’m excited to hear from and learn from other people, both people who agree with me and people who disagree with me.

In all likelihood I’ll make this into a series of sorts, discussing humanistic takes on political and social issues. I do think that some arguments used by people on my side with regards to this issue aren’t particularly good, especially the idea floated by some that because some 17-year-olds (those with parental permission, or emancipated 17-year-olds) can join the military that’s an argument in favor of lowering the voting age. That might be worth breaking down in-depth someday.

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Luciano Joshua Gonzalez-Vega runs Sin/God and is the column’s sole author. The Puerto Rican writer is constantly working, whether he’s creating content for his YouTube channel, searching for freelance writing jobs,  studying to finish earning a Master’s of Arts degree in peace & conflict studies, discussing various topics with his friends online such as on Wednesday nights with fellow YouTuber Wonder Lady as the co-host of the Humanist Perspectives program, or as a general guest on a range of different YouTube channels. He is an independent content creator and columnist who dreams of being financially independent and able to self-finance a consultant’s business aiding businesses and organizations that find themselves burdened and needing conflict management services and even hoping to one day have a nationally syndicated radio show wherein he aids people dealing with workplace or familial conflicts and also advocates for humanistic approaches to the problems of the day. 

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