Sixteen-year-olds can choose where to work, whether to get a driver's license, and (depending on the state) who they want to have sex with or even marry. While the government and their parents might object, they're also making choices about what to watch and listen to and whether to consume drugs and alcohol.
Perhaps it's time we also let them vote.
Under-18s are not allowed to participate in state or national elections anywhere in the United States. A few tiny Maryland communities on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections, and Berkeley, California, lets 16-year-olds vote for school board seats.
Critics argue teens are too irresponsible, too immature, or too uninformed to make crucial decisions about whether they'd prefer the Democrat or the Republican. One could say the same for many adults, yet the franchise persists. Only 26 percent of those 18 or older in the U.S. can name the three branches of government, according to a 2017 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center; more than a third of respondents could not name a single right guaranteed by the First Amendment. A 2018 C-SPAN poll found that even though 91 percent of Americans believe the Supreme Court impacts their everyday lives, 52 percent of Americans cannot name a single Supreme Court justice.
Luckily, no one vote matters very much. That won't change if we let 16- and 17-year-olds cast ballots.
This year, lawmakers in Oregon and California introduced bills that would lower the voting age to 16 for state elections. In March, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) introduced an amendment that would do the same at the national level.
Most proponents of lowering the voting age don't appear to actually respect the decision-making abilities of teenagers—they just believe a younger voting population will be more likely to support their preferred policies. Proponents often cite the pro-gun control activism of survivors of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting as an example of younger voters being inherently more reasonable. Meanwhile, in both Oregon and Washington, D.C., the same legislators who say they want to empower youth by lowering the voting age have voted to raise the smoking age to 21.
It's a shame these lawmakers see youth voting as a tool for gaining electoral advantage, not as one of the many rights due to teens as budding individuals.
Lawmakers in 13 states have introduced proposals since 2003 to expand suffrage to under-18s. So far, all of them have failed.
We should let teenagers make many more decisions than they're able to now—including in civic life. It's highly unlikely they'll do worse than their parents.
Rent Free is a weekly newsletter from Christian Britschgi on urbanism and the fight for less regulation, more housing, more property rights, and more freedom in America's cities.