Updated: Sep 16, 2020
The recent worldwide children’s climate change protests make a strong case for lowering the national election voting age from 18 to 16. That thought was probably on the minds of some of the youthful New York City environmental demonstrators who were chanting: “We vote next!”
Yet, even if the reduced age were in place throughout the world, many of the youthful protesters appeared too young to take advantage of it.
Underage notwithstanding, voting eligibility should be as generous as possible since the current adolescent generation seems likely to face the exigencies of climate change at a critical turning point. A scientific consensus has emerged that mankind has approximately 12 years to slow the human-generated, runaway heating of the planet. Today’s youth needs elected representatives who will pave the way for salvation, not compromise the future through misplaced economic priorities.
That said, there are those who maintain that age 16 is too immature to render sound political judgements in the voting booth. But that proposition is belied by the eloquence of speakers at the protests, some as young as 10-years-old. If 16-year-old youngsters’ frontal cortex (associated with judgmental faculties) is undeveloped as some opponents of lowering the voting age contend, you wouldn’t know it from the slick delivery of juvenile orators at the rallies. In some instances, they rhetorically outclassed Members of Congress.
Some scientists supportive of a lower voting age maintain that 16-year-olds possess “cold cognition”, which along with internet-savvy, provide the mental acuity to make sound leadership choices.
It should also be noted that it is legal for youngsters at 16 to work and pay taxes. They are considered mature enough to
independently navigate our highways where a miscue could mean serious injury or even death.
Allowing 16-year-olds to vote should stimulate interest in history and civics, leading to greater political participation.
That is certainly true in Austria, one of the twenty or so countries that permit 16-year-olds to vote. Results from a recent national election showed that a greater percentage of 16- and 17-year-olds cast ballots than did their 18 and 19-year-old compatriots.
Foes of the lower-age vote ignore that 16-year-olds can serve in the military with parental consent. If these youngsters can put their lives on the line, they should have the right to an electoral say.
In March, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. introduced an amendment to lower the voting age, only to have it resoundingly defeated in the House 305 to 126. Nevertheless, the unprecedented global youth movement is making inroads, if not in Congress, then with a public capable of forcing social change.