I will never forget the first time I cast a ballot. I was 19 years old. I voted in the 2006 election for my next U.S. senator. Casting my vote inspired me: I realized I was helping to make our democracy stronger.
Unfortunately, not every young person votes. U.S. citizens 18 and older are eligible to vote, but many do not exercise this right. In 2016, nearly 137 million Americans voted in the presidential election. But 94 million eligible voters did not.
Our democratic form of government is based on the idea that the entire population of eligible voters elects representatives to decide how the country is run. But we have a voter participation problem. Thus, our democracy is not fully representative. Here is one way to solve this: Lower the voting age from 18 to 16.
Research shows that voting is a habit. After someone votes once, he or she is likely to keep voting. But age 18 is a hectic time for many people. Sixteen-year-olds are at a more stable place in life. It’s the perfect time to form the voting habit.
Lowering the voting age can also ensure that politicians listen to young people and address their concerns. Politicians get elected by paying attention to voters. Right now, they do not have much motivation to listen to anyone younger than 18. If 16-year-olds could vote, politicians might focus on issues that affect younger Americans.
Lastly, students learn best when schoolwork connects to their life outside the classroom. There’s no better way to make civics relevant than by inviting students into the voting booth.
Some argue that 16-year-olds are not mature enough to vote. But research shows they know as much about government as young adults do. It also shows that the 16-year-old brain is developed enough to make voting decisions.
Many young people think the system does not care what they think. Lowering the voting age would show them the power they have in our democracy.
Scott Warren is the CEO of Generation Citizen. The group works to get students involved in the democratic process. He argues the voting age should be 16.