Lamps: America should lower its voting age

Joseph Lamps, Columnist

Throughout the country’s history, voting rights have been extended to an increasing number of Americans: non-land owners, minorities, women and people age 18-21. Most of us appear now to believe that everybody who should be able to vote can. The purpose of democracy is to represent the will of the people. Therefore, anybody with opinions on how the country should handle different issues should have their voice heard. The voting age should be lowered so that anybody who is old enough to understand the responsibility of voting and understand the political system can vote.

Voter turnout for people age 18-29 was only 40 percent in 2012, and well below 20 percent in 2014, showing that many new voters are too apathetic to make their voice heard, and that our politicians are representing the views of a small group of Americans. Lowering the voting age would likely increase turnout: If people have suffrage rights while still living with their parents they may be more likely to register and vote. Encouraging teens to vote could make voting a long-term habit after they become adults. Allowing people to engage in the political process early could also spur interest in politics, possibly leading to more informed and more engaged voters.

Finally, the interests of people under 18 should be represented because they have different interests which older people are unlikely to consider. Young voters can expect to live around six more decades, so they have different considerations than people who will not be around then. Because younger voters have to consider the future in a way older voters do not, this could also improve the quality of the electorate. This manifests itself in opinions on actual issues. For example, 52 percent of voters age 18-29 think climate change is a serious issue, whereas only 38 percent of those over 50 agree. It is outrageous for people under 18 to have to live in a world designed without their input.

An obvious objection to lowering the voting age is that minors are simply too uninformed. However, this objection is inconsistent because this argument is never made against any other groups of people. Uneducated people, known extremists, new immigrants and some intellectually disabled people all vote, and to take this ability away from these groups would be considered a grave violation of rights. Lack of trust in their decision-making ability is simply not a reason to restrict minors from voting.

This objection can be further put to rest by evaluating what the likely effects of a lower voting age would be. Suffrage for minors would not have a dangerous effect; polls tell us that people under 18 would more often vote like their parents than choose an unorthodox candidate. According to a Gallup poll, 71 percent of Americans age 13-17 have political views about the same as their parents, 21 percent are more liberal, and seven percent are more conservative. This, in addition to the relatively small increase in the voting population from including people under 18, implies that the overall effect on voting outcome is likely to be small. Still, the issue of voting age should be particularly stirring for Northwestern students: Although most of us are old enough to vote, many of the politicians who are currently running society were elected before we turned 18. As people currently being governed by leaders we could not help choose, we should care about lowering the voting age.

Joseph Lamps is a Weinberg freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.