Voting is a responsibility too critical to ask of youth

Voting+is+a+responsibility+too+critical+to+ask+of+youth

Grace Malanowski

Last November, through unprecedented times, the United States held another Presidential election and a new batch of 18-year-olds registered to vote. In 1971, the 26th Amendment was passed, stating that “The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.” Prior to the 26th Amendment, the age requirement for voting in the United States was 21, which was established when America had first gained independence from Great Britain and only white males could vote. Since then, voting opportunities have expanded through the creation of the fifteenth Amendment in 1870 which gave African American men the right to vote, the nineteenth Amendment in 1920 which gave women the right to vote, and the 26th Amendment which gave citizens of 18 years or older the right to vote. Despite the fact that the legal voting age has already been lowered once, many U.S. citizens believe that it should drop yet again, providing 16-year-olds with the privilege of participating in elections. Although voting at a younger age could possibly form a strong foundation for future voting, the legal voting age in the U.S. should not be lowered because younger age groups show less interest in politics and lack the life experience required to make critical decisions.  

To begin, younger age groups consistently have lower interest levels in politics, including elections. New voters regularly have the lowest voter turnout of all age groups, as data from the United States Elections Project’s analysis of the US Census Bureau has proved that “Only 12.5% of 18-year-olds participated in the 2014 midterm election, compared to 42% of the general population…just 16% of eligible voters ages 18-29 voted in the 2014 election, compared to 30% for ages 30-44, 43% for 45-59, and 55% for age 60 and up. Over the last 30 years, voter turnout for 18- to 29-year-olds has never exceeded 21% in a midterm election” (ProCon.org). Overall, this validates the lack of interest that 18-year-olds have in voting compared to older, more mature age groups. Although citizens gain the right to vote once they reach the age of 18, many choose not to follow through with voting until they are much older and acquire a greater regard for pressing political issues. If 18-year-olds choose not to involve themselves with voting, then why would younger age groups such as 16-year-olds be expected to involve themselves with voting? Aside from the 2014 elections, the 2016 presidential election also received low voter turnout among new voters: “Youth turnout in the 2016 presidential election was found to be similar to the 2012 election. About 55% of eligible young voters (people between the ages of 18 and 35) voted in the election. Millennials are still seen to have the lowest voter turnout of any age group” (Utter and Newton). This emphasizes the consistency when it comes to interest levels in politics for new voters, as many young voters continued to skip out on casting their ballots not only in the 2012 election, but also in the 2016 election which occurred four years later. Thus, citizens below the age of 18 should not be given the right to vote if young adults specifically choose not to participate in essential elections that impact not only them, but the entire nation. Moreover, 16-year-olds clearly would not show adequate interest levels in politics and elections when young adults close to their age and older hardly involve themselves in elections.  

Additionally, citizens below the age of 18 struggle to make critical decisions, as they lack many essential life experiences to shape their choices. When it comes to the subject of politics and encountering adult responsibilities, experts claim that “…16- and 17-year-olds demonstrate lower interest in politics, have less political knowledge, and lack the experience needed to participate in elections…People under 18 are subject to different labor, contract, and criminal responsibility laws, and aren’t allowed to join the military without parental consent or serve on a jury. Most are still living at home and would be influenced by the voting choices of their parents” (ProCon.org). This suggests that teenagers cannot weigh in on many important topics specifically because they have not yet recognized numerous laws and situations that apply to adults. Therefore, many teenagers will look to their parents for voting advice and voice not their own opinions, but the opinions of their parents. By voting earlier than need be, adolescents will be politically influenced not necessarily because they agree with their parents or have had the same experiences, but because they need to check a name on a ballot. Besides the absence of adult scenarios, minors are yet to receive a full high school education. These educational years are essential and “Though the voting age may be an arbitrary legal standard, it takes into account the completion of a high school education, the full opportunity to be versed in government, legal independence, and coming into one’s complete rights as a U.S. citizen” (Van Der Linden). Van Der Linden outlines the need to receive a high school education prior to stepping into the voting booth, as this education provides citizens with the governmental knowledge required to make political decisions that will affect themselves and others. Although 18-year-olds and many young adults have yet to experience certain laws and governmental aspects in their daily lives, completion, or near completion, of high school will provide citizens with a better understanding of what their political decisions will eventually be based upon. Consequently, younger students who have not yet learned all there is to know about the U.S. government and politics will struggle to determine how to vote on pressing and future issues. Altogether, the lack of complete education and adult circumstances would create conflict if adolescents below the age of 18 were permitted to vote.       

Opposing views claim that lowering the voting age could possibly form strong voting habits that adolescents will carry through the rest of their lives. Nonetheless, the brains of individuals below the age of 18 are not yet fully developed, which would directly impact voting: “Social scientists Tak Wing Chan, PhD, and Matthew Clayton, DPhil, say that 16- and 17-year-olds wouldn’t be competent voters because ‘research in neuroscience suggests that the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex, is still undergoing major reconstruction and development during the teenage years,’ and added that the prefrontal cortex is what ‘enables us to weigh dilemmas, balance trade-offs and, in short, make reasonable decisions in politics’” (ProCon.org). Evidently, teenagers are still experiencing brain development and maturation in the “decision making” area of their brains, especially at ages 16 and 17. Therefore, it is still difficult for teens of this age to face life-changing decisions, including determining which candidate’s name to select when entering a voting booth. Although forming stronger voter habits might result from voting at a young age, making a decision that can negatively impact many lives is a much more probable outcome.  

In a nutshell, the absence of personal experience in sophisticated decision making along with seldom interest in politics are contributing factors as to why the legal voting age should not be lowered to allow adolescents below the age of 18 to vote. Citizens below the age of 18 clearly do not have the duties under the law, required rights, experiences, or the scrutiny of politics and government needed to be capable of voting. Putting a decision that will impact countless lives in the hands of a 16-year-old is irrational. Many people protest in favor of lowering the legal voting age, but expecting teenagers to choose the right candidate, the candidate that benefits their future, is too high of an expectation when some of their main concerns are after school activities and friendships, not how their lives can change based on which candidate they select on a ballot. It is more important to educate today’s youth about how to form and voice their opinions as well as develop their critical thinking skills first. Should the future of the nation be dependent on the decision of a teenager?