Flickr/Liz the Librarian

American youth under 18 years old live under the same laws as adults. They pay sales taxes (every time they buy something). And some can even work jobs and get drivers licenses.

But … they can’t vote.

And that’s just not fair, say a growing number of student rights groups across the country that are lobbying to have the voting age lowered to at least 16.

“Young people participate in this society in many other ways,” Alex Korokney-Palicz, president of the National Youth Rights Association told Fox News. “They pay taxes, they follow our laws, they can be charged as adults for crimes. They have so much reason to vote, and It’s simply unjust to deny them.”

Being able to vote, he added, would add real meaning and relevance to high school social studies and civics classes,  which most students take before they turn 18.

But, say opponents, too many youth simply lack the necessary level of maturity and complexity to make informed decisions at the voting booth.

“I think it’s a dumb idea,” said Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. “The voting age was set at 18 because that’s the age at which people could be drafted and die for their country. They (youth under 18) don’t have enough life experience or history and don’t know the issues in enough detail.”

Throughout the course of American history, the right to vote has gradually grown more inclusive, almost always the result of hard-fought political battles waged by disenfranchised populations who have demanded representation in the political process.  Remember, when the Constitution was first drafted in 1789, the right to vote in most states was reserved for white male property owners 21 and up.

By the mid-Nineteenth Century, property requirements were dropped. Over the next two decades, voting were granted to black men, and shortly thereafter, to all naturalized male citizens over 21. It was more than 50 years later – in 1920 – that women were granted universal suffrage after the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

But it wasn’t until 1971 that the voting age in America was finally lowered from 21 to 18. The 26th Amendment, which prohibited states from setting the voting age higher than 18, was ratified largely as a result of heated student activism in opposition to the Vietnam War, and the compelling notion that if 18-year-olds were old enough to be drafted into the army and sent to war, they should also be old enough to vote.

Section one of the amendment states: “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”

So, will voting rights be extended to teens younger than 18? It remains to be seen. But if history is any guide, the possibility could certainly be within reach if enough young people demand it.


Should the Voting Age Be Lowered? 14 January,2014Matthew Green

  • Guest

    Absolutely NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO Let them wait until they are 21 or 18, if those states think individuals are mature enough and educated on the political topics. Perhaps, 1% of the total may qualify. NO, NO, NO.

    What party is colluding for this atrocity?


Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email:; Twitter: @MGreenKQED

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