During the 2020 U.S. presidential election, 66% of eligible voters showed up to vote. For a country built on democracy and decisions made by the people, one-third of people going unrepresented isn’t much of an achievement. To add to that fact, this was “the highest rate for any national election since 1900.” Additionally, this was a presidential election, which typically gets more public attention than midterms or local elections. In Connecticut, the voter turnout for a midterm election is measured to be “between 55% and 65%” and “around 75% or 80%” for presidential elections. But this number falls significantly when it comes to local elections, as Connecticut had roughly a 32% voter turnout in the 2021 municipal elections.
These are a lot of statistics, but what they all show is that a lot of people don’t vote, even in races with historically high turnout. In local elections, less than half of Connecticut residents vote despite the fact that these elections involve public servants closest to the people. This lack of participation is a problem because the U.S. is built on the ideal of democracy, which can erode when not maintained. I would argue that there is an obvious and easy solution to this problem: lowering the national voter age to 16.
Young people vote less than everyone else. The New York Times reports that “Most young people in the United States don’t vote. Fewer than half of Americans 18 to 29 voted in the 2016 presidential election — a gap of more than 15 points compared with the overall turnout.” When you think about this, it makes sense. Young people have less established lives; many of them are in college away from home and may not think to get an absentee ballot or want to go home to vote. They may also forget to register. Quite simply, the fact that voting starts when our lives change the most is inopportune.
If the voting age were lowered to 16, it would allow people to begin voting prior to big life changes. This would allow parents to bring their children with them when they vote for the first time. In high school, students will simultaneously learn about the voting process while being active participants within those elections. With students having these supporting mechanisms to help them when they are first introduced to voting, they can continue a habit of civic participation throughout their life. However, once students turn 18, there is much less opportunity for that same support.
At 16, students are actively learning about government. At my high school, almost every student took civics or AP Government and Politics during their sophomore year. Such classes can help make students into more informed voters, prepare them to vote and facilitate an education that will teach them political literacy. On the other hand, once in college, it’s harder to guarantee that every student will take a class related to civics, not to mention the fact that not every student goes to college.
One counterargument to this proposal is that students under 18 may not have the maturity to make decisions for the country. However, the fact that a high school education can support the process shows how students can be taught to be educated voters. Additionally, there aren’t laws stopping people who are mentally declining from voting or who are holding public office for that matter, so there shouldn’t be a law stopping people from voting because they’re not legal adults.
Voter turnout is a problem in the U.S., and it is a problem that we should be trying to solve. Lowering the voting age can help to begin this process by normalizing voting at a young age and using existing support structures to encourage younger people to perform their civic duties.