Should We Lower the Voting Age to 16?

16 Year Old Vote

The regulatory history of voting in the United States is complex to say the least.  Roughly 20 acts, including constitutional amendments, have changed who is eligible to vote since 1789. Originally it was up to the states to decide – which generally limited voting rights to white property owning, or tax paying, men. This disenfranchised a number of people groups as only about 6% of the population met those requirements at the time.

Since then we have continued to open up voting to all people-groups in order to treat it as an individual right. One caveat to this may be those convicted of a felony, whom society has deemed unfit to vote (which has developed its own controversy) – another caveat would be persons under the age of 18 whom society has not labeled as adults. Recently this too has become controversial.

A Washington D.C. City councilman had previously proposed lowering the voting age in D.C. to 16 in 2015. On the heels of the March for Our Lives effort (which involved a number of students under the age of 18), he has once again brought back the proposal. The question before the national peanut gallery then is – would it be wise to lower the voting age to 16? I believe the majority of arguments for and against this will be anecdotal, so let me tell you about myself at 16 years old.

When I was in high school I wrote an article titled, “Why I’m a Democrat” and followed Michael Moore’s foray into socialism hard. He was my inspiration. I was sold on single-payer socialized healthcare. At the same time, I believed abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape, that weed should be illegal in all cases, that the state should ban gay marriage, that the Patriot Act was a good piece of legislation, and finally I didn’t care about taxes at all because I didn’t pay any – that was something my parents had to do.

Flash forward to the present day and my thoughts on all of those topics range from “more-nuanced” to “what was I thinking?” The reason my political leanings have changed so much is because I’ve experienced adulthood.  This experience started when I left home at 18, gained more momentum when I started a business, even more when I bought a house and married. This brings me to the obvious point of my anecdote: Me at 28 would vehemently disagree with my political leanings at 16.  This seems to be true for most people who go through the stages of adulthood: graduating high school, obtaining a job, marrying a spouse, buying a home, and raising children. We still aren’t certain if older people are more conservative because of their age, or if they are because of the generation they were born in though.

I remember when someone I hired regularly got her first big tax bill.  Up until this point she had been a pretty big Bernie Sanders supporter, but now that she was out of college, had a job, bills of her own, and was facing paying actual taxes – her attitude began to change.  For me, it wasn’t just taxes, but my everyday business interactions with the government itself. DMVs would have gone out of business a very long time ago if they were private entities. Someone at the TN chamber of commerce, upon my inquiring as to why I had to pay a fee for my LLCs, admitted that it was somewhat a scam. He said originally the LLC wasn’t supposed to be taxed, so they created “fees” instead. Then, they began to tax LLCs, but because they got used to the revenue from the fees – they kept those too!

When I would go to get a film permit I would inevitably have to walk to two different government buildings to fill out forms. If I was filming in a park, I’d have to go clear across town after visiting the first two, in order to fill out even more forms. Why didn’t they just make this process an app? Why was it such a brutal experience? As I continued to encounter government in my adult life (tag renewals, business license, social security office, etc.) I finally came to the conclusion – it’s just the nature of the beast.

So as I looked back to how I once wanted the government to run healthcare, and then compared it to my adult experiences with the institution, I realized how naive I had been to think that was a good idea. My perceptions changed because I experienced more government as I grew into adulthood.  Whereas other writers on this topic may argue over whether 16 year olds should also go to war, or buy a gun, or drive a car, I personally just want to use my anecdote to say this: I thank God I didn’t vote as a 16 year old.

Photo by Elliott Stallion on Unsplash

Written by James Thayer