The National Voting Age Shouldn’t be Lowered
We’ve seen movement on the political landscape in recent days on the issue of voting rights. This time the suffrage movement is for even younger teenagers being given the right to vote. From CNN to Harvard Law, there’s a concerted push for lowering the voting age to 16. This is not an unprecedented proposal, as the Baby Boomer Generation can attest to, but that doesn’t make it a smart proposal. In fact, I’d call it foolish to believe lowering the voting age is a good idea.
First of all, why is the voting age set at 18? It was originally set at 21 due to our laws’ roots in English Common Law. The 14th Amendment allowed states to choose their own voting ages, but it wasn’t until 1971 that the 26th Amendment lowered the federal voting age to 18. It was enacted based on the ideas that our youth were now, by qualitative and quantitative measures, more educated, and that if we were sending 18-year-olds to die in war, they should be able to vote.
It seems that many people in recent days are jumping on the notion of having the age lowered because they assume that these children support their policy prescriptions and would vote how they want them to. I would highly advise against this kind of thinking, as teenagers are immensely impressionable and can be easily persuaded to join groups they believe will accept them.
Neurologists have found that our brains are still developing until about 25. More importantly, the area of the brain still developing deals with rational thought. This makes teenagers impulsive and emotionally driven, which, when placed in the political square, allows evil actors (think Mao’s Cultural Revolution) to take advantage of them for their own purposes.
Now I’ll make an aside: that it’d be misguided to afford people rights based only on when our brains are fully developed. Not only because we’d then have to upend the rest of our rights (who would train someone to kill who’s not allowed to vote?), but because peak cognitive function only lasts until about 30. Should we then start revoking rights to older adults because they’re naturally losing gray brain matter? Science can’t be the only factor when deciding our rights. That being said, while we can’t wait for our brains to reach peak rationality, it’d make even less sense to push the age of suffrage further away from that point.
On top of their undeveloped pre-frontal cortexes, 16-year-olds are lacking in accrued knowledge and wisdom. Most students don’t learn basic civics until their senior year. Supporters of lowering the voting age point to their relatively higher rates of voting in local elections, but what good is that with a demographic that’s still trying to figure out their own bodies? Let alone the intricacies of a host of national policy issues.
Finally, we’d again have to discuss moving around our rights to fit this change. As we’d have conceded that they’re mentally fit enough to decide on our national leaders, would we then have to lower the age to be legally an adult? How about firearm purchase? Moreover, we’d be obliged to cut out the remaining two years of new voters’ schooling. An American citizen given the civic duty of voting surely doesn’t require any more education from a government mandated primary school.
It’s not to say we shouldn’t take these kids’ opinions and concerns seriously, but they’re still kids. We shouldn’t be turning them into political actors for our own gain.