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Why Sixteen? Well, Why Not?

Written by Katrina Moncure Oct 14, 2011

Another #16tovote on the 16th is coming up on Sunday, and perhaps the most common question I get during and about it, just as any of us campaigning for this lower voting age in some way, from supporters and opponents alike, is “why sixteen?”

Well… why not sixteen?

True, this organization’s official position on lowering the voting age does not specify an age, and there is no intention to change that. After all, whether you are campaigning for lowering the voting age to 17, 16, 14, or whatever, we support you!

So why are we saying sixteen in so many of our campaigns and literature despite this being unspecified in our positions? Well, the short answer is… it’s a nice round number. Our most common talking point is that under-18 workers must still pay taxes, and 16 is the usual age one can begin working, and thus these teen workers are paying taxes but have no representation. So 16 makes sense there. Can also drive, even if with limitations. Can marry if parents consent. Can drop out of school. So in the interest of pointing out where teens carry many social responsibilities granted earlier, 16 makes sense.

Also, we’re hardly the only ones campaigning for 16. You can vote at 16 in Austria, Brazil, and many other countries and territories. Scotland is about to lower their voting age to 16. Norway is giving 16 a trial-run in some municipalities. Several countries in Europe and Africa have considered it. Many places around the US and Canada have considered it. A proposal of lowering the voting age to 16 certainly frightens many who feel personally bonded to the idea that only at age 18 (at the lowest) does a person really become a person who matters, and yet, when looking globally, it seems to be the trend! American ageists may balk at the idea of 16-year-olds voting, that it would surely mean death of society and government somehow, yet ignore that Austrian and Brazilian 16-year-olds have had the right to vote for a while now!

But then, most campaigns worldwide for lowering the voting age to 16 are by single-issue groups, while we here at NYRA work several youth rights issues at a time, because we believe they are all connected in what we see is the bigger issue of anti-youth oppression and exclusion. The people running those campaigns, based on ones I’ve talked to anyway, certainly do personally support youth rights beyond their voting age work, but their campaigns themselves are about that alone. And that’s fine. But NYRA is set apart in that our motivations are a bit different, that we don’t primarily support a lower voting age due to wanting to increase voter turnout or expecting youth to vote a certain way, but because we see voting as an inherent right that youth are senselessly denied, a denial that impedes and hurts youth. Just like we take on all our other issues because we see these rights violations as impeding and hurting youth. In that case, as many have asked, why are we saying sixteen like the others then? Why are we not supporting getting rid of the voting age altogether?

The short answer is… we don’t need to.

We say lower the voting age to 16 (give or take). And what happens? Opponents freak out this mild suggestion, something already a reality in several places around the world, something already being seriously considered and proposed in others, would be sooooo bad and that there’s no way teens could handle something like voting! They come up with arguments for their case… and all they can come up with is “brain development” speculation or vague assertions about maturity.

And what else happens? Proponents like the idea of lower voting ages, but it gets some to think it’s still not low enough. They come up with reasons and arguments for going even lower, for the extension of other rights with it, that if we’re going to go as far as 16, then damn it, we ought to keep going and they’ll explain how they think it should be done! They’ll each paint a further vision of youth rights goals and activism way down the line and demand it.

My point exactly. 🙂

-Katrina

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