It might sound crazy, but 16-year-olds should have the right to vote

December 10, 2022 — by Zachary Zinman
Photo by Annie Liu
The proposal makes more sense than people may initially think.

Turning 18 on Sept. 9 came with one of the most exciting privileges for me: voting in the November election.

Politics has always been a key part of my household. My father and I frequently share articles regarding the president’s approval ratings, inflation and the war in Ukraine while “Meet the Press” plays every Sunday morning on the TV.

For over 10 years, right before elections, we traditionally print out U.S. maps and color states and districts in red or blue, representing the candidate we predict will win. After making our predictions separately, we sit down to discuss the thought process behind our respective predictions. 

This tradition is less about accuracy and more about methods. In elementary school, I relied on gut feeling; now, I rely on polls from FiveThirtyEight, candidate debates and election updates in the news.

Even though lawmakers pass legislation directly impacting the lives of 16-year-olds, these high schoolers do not have a voice in the election of their representatives. With the ruthless attacks on American democracy in recent years, the national voting age should be lowered to 16 to strengthen our democracy by increasing voter turnout now more than ever.

Alongside many others in my age group, I had the appropriate knowledge to make an informed vote long before I turned 18. Most public high schools offer U.S. History and Government courses, which prepare teenagers to make an informed decision about their representation in government.

Moreover, evidence shows 16-year-olds are actually more likely to vote than 18- to 24-year-olds. According to the New York Times, in countries like Argentina, Austria, Brazil and Nicaragua — which all have a voting age of 16 for either nation, state or local elections — 16- and 17-year-olds have had a “significantly higher” turnout than other older age groups.

According to a study conducted by Yale University’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies, past voting “substantially increases” the chance of voting in the future. If more citizens begin voting at an earlier age, they are more likely to vote habitually in future elections, increasing voter turnout for years to come — which should be a goal for all elected government officials (though, these days, it clearly isn’t).

Many doubt the decision making abilities and maturity of 16- and 17-year-olds. To make a judgment on whether 16-year-olds are able to vote, it’s important to understand the idea of cold cognition.

In calm situations, which allow for prolonged deliberation with logical reasoning, people rely on cold cognition to make informed decisions. Voting falls into the tasks of cold cognition. By 16, cold cognition is secure and mature. High schoolers are ready to sift through complex issues and vote.

If the voting age is lowered to 16, many high schools would become political hotbeds, in which students can have a real influence on the democratic process. With more influence from young people, our government will have a more well-rounded representation of its citizens.

With the increase of school shootings in recent years, many young people want to have a say in gun legislation that directly affects them. Lowering the voting age would allow young people to vote for government officials who they believe will pass gun violence legislation to keep schools safe. Many teenagers also want to have a say in environmental issues they will face the consequences of.

On top of the safety aspect, there’s a fundamental American argument for lowering the voting age: taxation without representation.

Slightly more than 55 % of those 16 to 24 were employed in the U.S. in July 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Since some 16- and 17-year-olds have jobs and earn over $12,950 yearly, they have to pay income taxes. These teenagers should have a say about what their earnings are paying for in the government, especially on the local level.

Lowering the voting age to 16 will increase voter turnout, regular voting habits, and political participation. Politicians and citizens should always look for ways to bolster the representative democratic process of the U.S. Giving 16 and 17-year-olds voting rights will do just that.