Should 16-year-olds Be Allowed to Vote?

POLITICS

Voters in Brattleboro, Vermont, will be asked this week to lower the voting age for local elections to 16, a move that some say could place the town on the cutting edge in a world where teenage political maturity may be vastly increasing thanks to online social interaction. (Christian Science Monitor)

Use our resources to learn more about elections.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources, including today’s poll! (It’s a poll about voting, so you should definitely vote!)

No one is thinking of lowering the voting age this much! Photograph by Ceridwen, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-2.0

No one is thinking of lowering the voting age this much!
Photograph by Ceridwen, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-2.0

Discussion Ideas

  • What is suffrage? What is enfranchisement?
    • Suffrage is the right to vote.
    • Enfranchisement usually means the right to vote, but can also mean to grant other rights. In U.S. history, for example, “to enfranchise” sometimes means “to free from slavery.”

 

  • There are almost always qualifications, or limits, to suffrage. What is the qualification being challenged in Vermont? What are some historic limits to suffrage in the U.S.? What are some limits to suffrage around the world today?
    • Brattleboro is challenging the limit of age.
    • Historic restrictions in the U.S.: In the U.S., age has always been a limit to suffrage. The last time an age restriction was successfully challenged was in 1971, when the 26th amendment to the Constitution lowered the voting age to 18 from 21. Other historic U.S. restrictions on suffrage have included: place of birth or status as former slaves (lifted by the 14th amendment in 1868); race (lifted by the 15th amendment in 1870); sex (lifted by the 19th amendment in 1920); and inability or refusal to pay a poll tax (lifted by the 24th amendment in 1964).
    • Current restrictions (U.S.): The most familiar restrictions on voting in the U.S. today are probably rules over registration: In many U.S. elections, citizens must register in order order to vote, and must provide some form of identification when they vote.
    • Current restrictions (U.S.): The most controversial restrictions to voting in the U.S. today are probably those pertaining to prisoners or ex-convicts. These limits on suffrage are decided by state. For instance, in two states (Maine and Vermont) prisoners can vote while still incarcerated. In two states (Kentucky and Virginia) people convicted of a felony are usually prohibited from voting for the rest of their lives. In many states, only ex-convicts who are on parole or probation are allowed to vote. Take a look at this map for some more examples of how states address “felony disenfranchisement.”
    • Current restrictions (world): In many countries around the world, voters must provide government-issued identification in order to vote. In some countries, such as Brazil, Lebanon, and Tunisia, members of the military are not allowed to vote. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to vote. Learn more about international rules of suffrage from the always-trusty CIA World Factbook.

 

  • Read through the Christian Science Monitor article and this Debate.org forum. What are some arguments supporting lowering the voting age to 16?
    • An Austrian study (conducted as Austria lowered its voting age to 16) found that enfranchised young people were much more likely to be engaged with politics and political debate if they were allowed to participate and vote.
    • Online interactions may allow young people to intellectually mature at a younger age. One expert in neuroplasticity (the way the brain can change and adapt) says “Social communities online are driving youth to learn more and know more about the real world. This forms new neural connections and may promote dendrite growth we don’t see in those who are less socially engaged.”
    • Many 16-year-olds are already politically engaged. For example, they pay taxes if they work, and they can drive (putting them in a legally responsible position).
    • Many 16-year-olds are enrolled in government classes in school and are in an excellent position to know how government works.

 

  • What are some arguments against lowering the voting age to 16?
    • The leading argument, outlined in this study, is that 16-year-olds are simply not as intellectually mature as 18-year-olds.
    • Most 16-year-olds do not live financially or socially independent lives and so cannot engage with the political systems with the responsibilities of an adult.
    • Youths are less likely to actually vote. The highest voter-turnout rate for 18-24-year-olds was the presidential election of 1972, the first year teens were allowed to vote. (Republican Richard Nixon was elected for his second term.) The second-highest youth turnout was the 2008 presidential election, when Democrat Barack Obama was elected for his first term.

 

  • If passed, how would Brattleboro’s voting age impact the way candidates campaign? Would presidential or gubernatorial candidates start campaigning in high schools?
    • The movement to lower the voting age to 16 is restricted to local elections. Local elections include voting for officials such as a town mayor, judges, or members of the school board. Local elections also include ballot measures impacting taxes and land use.
    • Candidates for president (a federal position) or governor (a state position) would likely not campaign directly to 16-year-olds, although local politicians may interact with students more in a locality where they could vote.

 

  • Have states or localities lowered the voting age before the federal government in the past?
    • Yes! The great state of Georgia, where a current measure may reduce the age at which a citizen could run for public office to 18, lowered the voting age for state and local elections to 18 in 1942, nearly 30 years before the 26th amendment was passed.

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Christian Science Monitor: Should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote?

Nat Geo: All About Elections

CIA World Factbook: Suffrage around the World

Debate.org: Should the voting age be lowered to 16?

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