By: Shawn Syed
During Spring Break in Oregon, a group of teens did not go on vacation. Instead, they took to the Oregon State Capital to speak with lawmakers about lowering the voting age to 16. Hundreds of teens spoke out in an attempt to shape their own future. The teens stressed gun control and climate change as two major issues they want to have a voice in.
This would, of course, not be the first time that the voting age was lowered. With the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. Ratified in 1971, this was not a new idea. 30 years earlier, Senator Harley Kilgore advocated for a lowered voting age. Georgia and Kentucky passed measures to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1943 and 1955. President Dwight Eisenhower advocated for 18-year old’s in his 1954 State of the Union Address. A large push came on behalf of students who were old enough to go to war, but not old enough to vote. This, as well as work by Ted Kennedy and a 1963 Presidential commission, were much of the lead up to the passage of the 26th Amendment.
The 26th Amendment was passed with extraordinary fervor. Proposed on March 23, 1971 and ratified on July 1, 1971, it was the quickest ratification of an amendment in American history. Yet, scholars argued that as the period of adolescence grew longer, and people were given less responsibility at an early age, younger people were not ready to vote. James Kilpatrick, a noted political columnist, felt the states were extorted financially and bureaucratically into ratifying the 26th Amendment.
Today, the support for allowing 16-year old’s to vote is growing. Much of this has been due to the advocacy of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida. The rallies, social media campaigns, and building outcry have not been ignored. Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley introduced an amendment to a voting bill to lower the voting age from 18 to 16. She argued that young people are the forefront of social and legislative movements and have earned a seat at the table. Massachusetts GOP chairman Jim Lyons argued that 16-year olds were just not mature enough to make these kinds of decisions.
In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown and Representative Earl Blumenauer agree that 16-year olds should be able to vote. Blumenaeur argued that these citizens are old enough to work, pay income tax, drive vehicles, and be tried as adults in a criminal court of law. Oregon Senate Leader Herman Baertschiger argued that people are not legally considered adults until they are 18 and efforts to lower the voting age were backhanded political maneuvers to increase the liberal voter roll.
Diane Feinstein was approached by a 16-year old who questioned her on the Green New Deal. Feinstein responded succinctly, “Well, you didn’t vote for me.” Nancy Pelosi elicited different emotions when stating that 16-year old’s should be able to participate in the electoral process. Republican Michael Burgess stated that blame should be placed on the Republicans if they fear 16-year old’s would vote heavily Democratic. Burgess pleaded for Republicans to talk to people and foster better ideas.
Regardless of these views, it is hard to ignore the growing campaign to lower the voting age on behalf of non-profits, advocates, and the young Americans who yearn for their day to check off a ballot box.