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Grow our democracy; let 16-year-olds vote

By   /   October 29, 2010  /   Comments

Government representation – or, the lack of it – has come down to this: Some of the people who say they aren’t voting this year – for the first time in their lives — seem, well, rational to us.

The lesser of two evils, the new nonvoters have justifiably concluded, is still evil.

Why vote for people who have made no commitment during their campaigns to fight against corruption and waste? Why vote for someone who won’t fight for the change that this country needs? Why vote for people who care more about being elected than the issues that are important and should be fought for?

The two-party system is a matter of bad or worse, said one op-ed columnist, who concluded: “My vote is to stay at home.”

We can’t argue with that, any of it, but giving up voting is like giving up hope. And that is downright un-American.

So we don’t condone it.

Which brings us a concept that we hope will gain traction: Giving younger people the opportunity to vote. Just as the age 18 was arbitrarily established as the legal voting age, we propose that 16 year olds should have an opportunity to vote.

Young people’s participation has risen sharply over the last five years, reversing a decline that began in 1972 after the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. So, why not hasten the enfranchisement of this generation, born between 1985 and 1990, by lowering the voting age to 16? (Why not 15 or 14 or 13, you ask. Heck we can’t argue with that, either.)

Age thresholds bring about legendary arguments of morality: who can be legally executed, who can die at war, who can drive a car (with or without a chaperone), who can work 40 hours a week, who can drink a Miller Lite. But this is a time in which both youth and age are being extended.Skip to next paragraph

Here’s one idea, a model to follow, perhaps, bridging early beginnings and mandatory education. Many states have had success with a gradual phasing in of driving rights over a year or more, starting with a learner’s permit at age 16. The most restrictive of these programs are associated with a 38-ercent reduction in fatal crashes among the youngest drivers, according to a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Similarly, we feel that16-year-olds who want to start voting should be able to obtain an “early voting permit” from their high schools upon passing a simple civics course similar to the citizenship test. Besides increasing voter registration, this system would reinforce the notion of voting as a privilege and duty as well as a right — without imposing any across-the-board literacy tests for those over 18.

The more we treat teenagers as adults, the more they rise to our expectations. From a developmental and vocational point of view, the late teens are the right starting point for young people to think seriously about their futures. Government can help this process by bestowing rights along with responsibilities.

Consider this: The decisions being made about the country today affect those 18 and under more than they affect those 65 and older. Why not give them the legal rights to decide who makes those decisions?

A 16-year-old can leave school and home, work full time and pay taxes, get married, and take control of their own futures. Sixteen-year-olds are more interested than ever in issues – from climate change to racism, and from education to crime – so why can’t they have the basic right of all adult citizens by having a voice in their government.

Borrowing from a voting initiative in England, it seems that stopping 16 and 17 year olds from voting and having the chance to be heard sends a signal to them and to government that their views aren’t valid and that they aren’t real citizens. At a time when people feel that politics isn’t relevant to them, young people need to be encouraged to take part in democracy, not kept out from it.

We feel that it’s time we gave young people the basic right of any citizen – the right to vote.

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  • Published: 1771 days ago on October 29, 2010
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  • Last Modified: October 26, 2010 @ 5:09 am
  • Filed Under: Outlook

About the author

Owner / Editor / Writer

Tom Knighton is the publisher of The Albany Journal. In November, 2011, he became the first blogger to take over a newspaper anywhere in the world. In August of 2012, he made the difficult decision to take the Journal out of print circulation and become an online news agency, a first for the Albany area.

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