In the wake of the Parkland shooting, the importance of youth activism as a driving force for change in our country has become increasingly apparent. Young students from Parkland and around the country have proven adept at pressuring lawmakers to enact changes in laws that they hope will prevent future attacks. However, these young leaders who are looking to make a meaningful change in our society are limited by one small thing. They do not have the right to vote.
For most of American history, the voting age was set at 21 years old. This lasted until the Vietnam War, when images of young soldiers dying for a country they could not vote in helped persuade lawmakers to ratify the 26th Amendment and push the voting age down to 18. While no 16-year-olds and only some 17-year-olds serve in the military, there is the argument to be made that they still deserve to be voting members of society.
Chief among these arguments in that many 16- and 17-year-olds pay taxes. All told, they pay hundreds of millions in income taxes alone, and yet they have essentially no influence over how the money is spent. Anyone can tell you that “taxation without representation” was one of the grievances that brought forth our nation, and if this was justification enough for the colonists to want a say in how they were governed, then it should be good enough for 16- and 17-year-olds today.
Some people, as they always do, probably need more reasons as to why we should lower the voting age. The truth is that 16- and 17-year-olds are treated as adults in many respects, except the voting part, of course. Millions of people under the age of 18 are contributing to society, whether as employees of businesses, volunteers in their communities or by being active in other ways. They are also expected to follow adult laws in many cases. Every year, approximately 250,000 citizens under the age of 18 are tried, sentenced or incarcerated as adults in the United States. This indicates that our country deems 16- and 17-year-olds mature enough to be able to comprehend and follow laws (and be imprisoned for violating them) but not mature enough to vote for the representatives who determine these laws. All put together, it is an incredibly hypocritical policy.
Besides the abundance of evidence that it is wrong to prevent 16- and 17-year-olds from voting, there is also the fact that there are many benefits to allowing them to take part in the election process. Getting young voters involved helps them become more informed at a young age, always a useful thing, and it also makes it more likely that they will continue to vote in the future. Those under 18 are also likely to bring different perspectives to conversations on policy. In fact, many are already involved in politics, whether they are forming Political Action Committees or working on campaigns. Young people have long been at the forefront of social change on issues from desegregation to LGBT rights. If 16- and 17-year-olds would have the power to vote, we might not have to keep waiting for so long for some of these changes to happen.
The decisions that the U.S. government makes have as much impact on the lives of 16 and 17 year olds as they do on those 18 and older. And yet while these two groups have very similar responsibilities and expectations, one is able to vote and one is not. I don’t think it is unreasonable to suggest that this right be extended to those 16 and older. Several countries already have, along with numerous other smaller entities. If we trust people at this age to drive cars, pay taxes, and face adult consequences for breaking the law, then they absolutely deserve the right to vote. To not allow them to vote is an affront to the democratic process.
Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.