Awhile back, I attended a meeting with Rep. Andy Harris where he was asked whether he would support lowering the voting age to 16. He responded (I’m paraphrasing here) with chuckles about how 16 is too immature to understand the complexities of voting and he knew it because he (has? or had) 16-year-olds. Chuckle, chuckle. It bothered me then because I have known hundreds of young adults at 16 and in most cases, I would have preferred their decision making ability to Rep. Harris’s.
We, as a society, trust 16-year-olds to make adult decisions and to assume adult responsibilities all of the time. We trust them to care for younger children, drive a lethal weapon, own and use guns. They can give blood, register as an organ donor, work full time and pay taxes. They can be emancipated from their parents and be tried as an adult. They are trusted to make life-altering decisions concerning sex and drugs. At 16, they have a recent formal education on the working of governments, both foreign and domestic. Psychology Today found that when voting begins at 16, those voters are more likely to remain lifetime voters than if it begins even a short time later at 18. There was no difference in “political maturity.”
Let me share examples of how age does not guarantee knowledge of how governments work. On different cruises, I was behind two older-than-me Americans in line. One asked the front desk staff member, “What kind of money do they use in Hawaii?” The other, was in a random store in France, trying to pay with dollars. Ever the “ugly American,” it involved screaming the words, “You couldn’t get enough of our money during the war! And now, you won’t take my dollars!” Those people can and probably do vote.
We ask young adults to wait to have a say in issues that will affect them a lot longer than for me. The environment, the national debt and talk of war has more implications to them. I probably won’t be around for the really bad stuff. But my grandchildren will be. Even if for no other reason than “taxation without representation” is still wrong, 16- and 17-year-old citizens should have a say and should be able to vote. I’m guessing that Rep. Harris’s real concern is that if we let them, they may vote “Dr. No” out of office.