The movement to lower the voting age has begun. On January 28th, an ordinance was introduced to the Anchorage, Alaska city council that will lower the voting age to 16 for city elections. After a short but busy period collecting signatures to put the measure on the ballot the local group led by high schooler Corey Rennell has asked the city council to enfranchise them as local voters. If the council decides to pass the ordinance it will become just the second government body to lower the voting age since the 1970s. Last year the city council in Cambridge, Massachusetts passed an ordinance lowering the voting age to 17 for local elections. Local youth groups in North Dakota and Washington, DC are busy working on the issue in their areas as well.
The success of any or all of these campaigns may spawn similar campaigns in cities and states all across the nation. It is coming. Youth are demanding a voice, they are demanding the vote. Allow me to explain why. The last decade was the worst decade for youth in our collective national memory. Despite a great increase in wealth, the public lashed out at our teenage minority in what has grown to be a national hysteria. Curfew laws restricted movement, dress codes silenced individuality, zero-tolerance polices made crimes out of trench coats and saying “bang”, and boot camps emerged as prisons to send anyone who resisted. Against all evidence to the contrary, the public readily accepted Columbine shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris as standard bearers for an entire generation. Despite a plummeting rate of youth crime and a skyrocketing rate of youth volunteerism, the 90’s saw an anti-teen witchhunt that is persisting even now into the next decade. Tired of no respect, many youth are determined not to let the last decade repeat itself.
As our society is a republic, power stems from voting. Politicians listen to those who vote, they respect those who vote. Why is it that in the last decade state governments have begun to take away driving privileges from youth and not from the equally dangerous elderly population? Because seniors vote, youth don’t. Why is it that politicians fight to provide the best medical benefits and handouts to seniors while stealing funds from education? Because seniors vote, students don’t. Granting youth the right to vote will confer upon them the respect from lawmakers that they deserve.
The chief concern among skeptics is that young people are not mature or intelligent enough to vote properly. While this is a legitimate concern, I wonder why these same concerns have not been raised among adult voters. There are no tests, no qualifications, no restrictions to prevent certain adults from voting incorrectly. In the 2000 election, elderly Florida Democrats accidentally voted for right-winger Pat Buchanan rather than Vice President Al Gore. Yet, no one called for disenfranchising older voters, and rightly so. What, I wonder, would be so wrong with affording this same respect to young voters under 18?
I have the utmost confidence that the average 16 year old has as much sense and intellect to cast as valid and informed a ballot as the average 40 year old. We just have to give them the chance, and I urge you to do so. When a petitioner knocks on your door in North Dakota to put language on the ballot to lower the voting age to 16, please sign it. When your Washington, DC city council is asked to consider lowering the voting age, please support it. And when the Youth Rights movement reaches your town, wherever you may be, please support the struggle they have begun.
ALEX KOROKNAY-PALICZ is President & Executive Director of the National Youth Rights Association.