Community Issues

Should 16 Year Olds Be Able to Vote? One State Thinks So

Oregon lawmakers propose lowering the voting age, but the idea faces an uphill battle.


Should 16 year-olds be able to vote? Some lawmakers in Oregon think so, and they're going to leave it up to -- well -- the voters to decide. They've introduced a bill that would ask voters to amend the Oregon Constitution to lower the voting age from 18 to 16. If it passes, the question would go to voters in the 2020 general election. And if voters approve, Oregon would become the first state (but not the only place) in the nation to lower the voting age to 16.

Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, is one of the bill's sponsors. She argues that 16- and 17-year-olds are affected by life-and-death issues so they have a right to vote on things that affect their futures. "Sixteen-year-olds are subject to our criminal justice system," Fagan said at a news conference and quoted in the Statesman Journal . "And they deserve a chance to participate in the ballot about decisions that affect their homes, their clean air, their schools and, as we've seen, their very lives," referring to recent school shootings.

Students who attended the news conference agreed. "We need to be able to take our work to the ballot and protect the policies we're working so hard to pass," said high school senior Maria Torres, quoted in an article on Oregonlive.com .

"They're begging us to take action to protect their future." Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, OR

Another argument for a lower voting age is that, in most countries, kids can work at 16 and pay taxes, so they should have the right to vote on their political representation. Others, like House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi , believe it will get teens excited about politics while they're learning about the subject in school. Those who oppose the idea say kids that young don't have the political maturity to vote.

There are places in the U.S. where people younger than 18 can already vote. 16 states (not Pennsylvania) permit 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections and caucuses if they will be 18 by election day. In 2013, Takoma Park, Maryland became the first place in the United States to lower its voting age to 16 for local elections and referendums. And since then, three additional cities have joined them: Hyattsville and Greenbelt, Maryland and Berkeley in California (for school board elections only). 16 states (not Pennsylvania) allow pre-registration to vote to people are not yet 18.

If you support the idea of lowering the voting age and want to make your voice heard, a group called Vote16 USA has lots of resources on their webpage to get you started.

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