I recently read the comments on an interesting Opinion piece in the New York Times and was shocked. The article was titled “Why We Should Lower the Voting Age to 16,” and argued that teens are just as capable of “cold” cognition–making decisions under calm circumstances–as adults. It was a strong opinion, and I agreed with it; however, hundreds of other readers fiercely did not.
If you want to hear middle-age adults rant about how hard their lives are, how ignorant teens can be, and why lowering the voting age is idiotic, these comments are gold. One of the top posts read, “We should RAISE the age limit. Kids know nothing about real life. They don’t pay taxes, pay a mortgage, raise families, work 40 hour weeks etc. [We] do not need a 16 year old’s opinion, they need to worry about getting a date to Prom.” Upon seeing this, I was utterly repulsed. If this individual truly believes their proposal for raising the voting age is any less ridiculous than lowering it, or believes their argument against 16-year-old voters is any more sound, I urge them to seriously consider sitting out the next election–for the health of our nation.
First off, raising the voter age from 18 is not only unconstitutional, but defiant of the most basic civil liberties that have been given to adults for numerous reasons. They cite paying taxes and working 40 hour weeks as if that’s something 18-year-olds don’t do. If the writer of this comment used their knowledge about “real life,” they would know that anyone who has a job, owns a car, or buys literally anything, pays taxes. They would also know that while these teens often hold part time jobs, they also spend 6-9 hours a day in school and participating in extracurriculars.
As for the mortgage, those same teens are either applying to college now, or are already trapped under the massive burden of student loans, possibly equaling the size of this Gen-Xers (I’m assuming) awe-inspiring mortgage. The note about raising families is also offbase because they can’t possibly be aware of the financial situation facing teens around the country, and certainly don’t know the means to which they–and their families–survive.
Second, teens below the age of 18 have nearly the same life. They experience school, part time jobs, paying taxes, and yes, finding a date to the prom. I argue that if these aspects of life were the only qualifications to vote, 16 would still be too restrictive.
Another comment I read that I found quite dense said, “These days [16-year-olds] haven’t a clue or plan about their education, college, profession, career path, etc. – and you recommend that they vote. As they say, ‘you can’t fix stupid.’” Well, you’re right, sir. Trying to fix you would be a lost cause. The idea that teens are immature and ill prepared to make tough, life-altering decisions is in sharp contrast with the longstanding practice of forcing our children to make those decisions regardless. We all decide how much to try in school, which colleges to apply to, which colleges to attend, what to study there, and what we plan to do after, all before the age of 21 (with some exceptions). And as undergraduate enrollment has steadily increased for decades, it’s unreasonable to claim that when it comes to education, teens simply “don’t have a clue.”
Besides, teens having a say in which politicians sit on our school boards and run our education departments would impact how their schools prepare them for these pivotal decisions. And frankly, kids are much more aware of what their schools need than their parents are–because parents don’t go to their schools.
Reading these comments opened my eyes to the strong resistance to giving minors any rights at all. It seems silly to me that a 16-year-old can be tried as an adult in court but can’t vote on who makes the laws they’re subject to. In fact, in the United States, the age of reason–at which a child is expected to know right from wrong–is 7. Yet, they can’t cast a ballot until 11 years after that pretty important realization. It seems absurd that tax-paying, car-driving, job-holding members of our society are instead cast aside on election day because of their age. Age is not a definitive determinant of one’s competence or mental capacity.
I unequivocally agree with enfranchising hundreds of thousands of teens who are just as entitled to vote as anyone else. Unfortunately, without helping people see why these teens deserve a voice, there will forever be too much antipathy to bestow that right upon them. As long as the idea that teens should be shunned from the ballot box because of their “inexperience” stands firm, America will continue to withhold democracy from its own citizens. This makes me even more repulsed than those simple minded comments did.