Eye on the Pioneer: Is 16 Too Young To Vote?
On President’s Day, State Senator Shemia Fagan (D-Portland) announced a bill that she is sponsoring in the Oregon Senate. This bill, Joint Senate Resolution 22, proposes a change to the state constitution, which would lower the statewide voting age from 18 years to 16 years. The bill would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in local, state and even federal elections. If the Resolution passes both the House and the Senate, it will be voted on by Oregonians in 2020. This is a highly controversial issue and concern is well-founded, especially in a state like Oregon which requires no civics education.
Civics, the study of government and the responsibilities of citizens, is not taught in the vast majority of Oregon schools. Oregon is one of only eight states that do not require a civics class or test for graduation, according to the Center for American Progress. Civics makes a person more likely to vote, research bills and candidates, be open-minded to other points of view and think for themselves. It is important that people, especially youth, receive a civics education before they vote.
Supporters of the bill say that youth are affected by many of the hot-button issues being debated in America right now. They argue that issues like climate change, school-related issues, and gun control will have a major impact on their futures, which is true. However, without a civics education, many youth do not have a good understanding of those issues and will not make educated decisions on how to resolve them.
The bill was partially inspired by the Parkland shooting and the activism of the survivors. This horrible tragedy showed that young people are directly affected by these issues. Although many youth did become more politically engaged because of this, most youth did not. These students still lack a comprehensive understanding of the government. Therefore, it is not logical to lower the voting age until a civics education is required.
Proponents of the bill say that 16 and 17-year-olds can do many of the same things that legal adults can. They also have more rights and responsibilities than 15-year-olds.
“If I can be tried as an adult, why can’t I vote as an adult? I pay income tax like an adult, I drive like an adult, I can be charged and sentenced as an adult? Why is something as important as voting limited to our present and not our future?” Christine Bynum, a student at La Salle High School, said.
However, opponents of the bill do not think that these responsibilities are enough. While 16-year-olds can and must do many things that 18-year-olds do, they still have fewer rights and responsibilities.
“16-year-olds are too young to enlist in the military, too young to own firearms, too young to own property, too young to enter into legal contracts and too young to get married. But they are old enough to vote? People are not legally considered adults in this country until they are 18 years old, and I believe they shouldn’t be able to vote until then either,” Oregon Senate Republican leader Herman Baertschiger said.
The brains of 18-year-olds are also more developed than those of 16-year-olds. These differences in responsibility and maturity can be overlooked if the 16 and 17-year-olds understand the issues and are able to make informed decisions. However, without civics education, many students are unable to do that.
The bill’s supporters also believe that a lower voting age will create more lifelong voters. Nationally, many people of voting age do not vote. In the 2016 election, roughly 42% of eligible voters did not cast their ballot.
“Voting is a civic good that we want people to build early and strong habits and do throughout their whole lives,” Fagan said.
Supporters of this resolution hope that by allowing younger citizens to vote it will inspire them to keep voting throughout their life. However, if they don’t understand the importance of voting, it is unlikely that they will take time out of their day to cast their ballot. For many youth, his understanding will only come if they receive a civics education.
A paramount concern of the bill’s opponents is that young voters will be susceptible to outside influence. They think that younger minds would be easier for candidates, organizations and parties to take advantage of. Parents, family members and even teachers are more likely to influence a 16-year-old’s voting than an 18-year-old’s. In addition, most 18-year-olds will be moving out of the house soon, leaving them to think for themselves more. A civics education would cause many of these teenagers to question what they are being told and come to their own conclusions which would help alleviate negative outside influence.
According to the Associated Press, 14 states have introduced bills to lower the voting age since 2003. None of these bills made it out of committee for a floor vote. Although the bill has gained support in Oregon, the vast majority of Americans are against lowering the voting age, with good cause. According to a 2018 poll from The Atlantic and the Public Religion Research Institute (a nonpartisan nonprofit), 81% of Americans are opposed to lowering the voting age and only 16% are in favor.
Oregon wants its youth to become involved, which is necessary for the future of our democracy. However, if they don’t have a basic understanding of the government, allowing 16-year-olds to vote could cause more damage than good. Until Oregon makes civics education mandatory it is not in the state’s best interest to lower the voting age.