Just as women were repressed without suffrage, so are children
Dear Straight Talk: I read that the voting age was lowered to 16 in two cities and that San Francisco is considering the same. I don't feel kids this age have the maturity or education to make informed decisions. I think most honest teenagers would agree. —Parent in Santa Rosa, California
Editor’s Note: The child suffrage movement is finally gaining traction as voter polls slipped to their lowest levels ever in the 2014 election. Two suburbs of Washington D.C., Hyattsville and Takoma Park, Maryland, have successfully lowered their city voting ages to 16 and now the proposal is being considered for San Francisco, California.
I'm a proponent of child suffrage because children's needs such as a good education, maternity leave for their parents (ensuring better early-childhood experiences), better daycare, better juvenile justice systems, and basic things like proper nutrition, medicine, and safe homes are all things children are unable to provide for themselves and all get the shortest shrift in agenda items, elections and budgets. If kids could vote, it would help them get a fair piece of the pie — making us a stronger nation. Just as women weren't self-representing as voters until 1920, children aren't self-representing today and our infrastructure and way of life reflects their repression.
We already consider 16-year-olds mature enough to drive, work, pay taxes, and be sent to adult prison. While full adult-brain mode isn't until age 25, many 16-year-olds have plenty of maturity (just as many 30-year-olds do not). To deny them the right to vote uses the same arguments that denied women the right to vote and kept them subjugated.
Those who worry teens will be proxy voters for their parents, keep in mind that teens are independent by nature. In Scotland's recent vote on whether to separate from the United Kingdom, almost half the 16- and 17-year-olds voted differently than their parents. (Maybe therein lies the fear.)
But will they vote at all? Colin may be right that precious few would make it to the polls even if they could vote until Citizens United is repealed and we go back to being a democracy. Among dismal voting records, the young (age 18-24) voted less than anyone. A University of California Davis study shows that in California, only 8 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in the 2014 election.
Personally, I would like to see Citizens United repealed AND the voting age lowered to 16, in either order. A good place to test youth suffrage is a major U.S. city. I hope San Francisco approves the measure and that teens rise to the occasion and contribute greatly to civic life. I have a lot of confidence in them and believe we need their voices added to the mix in order to heal societal wounds and thrive. But then, you might have guessed this from the founder of Straight Talk Advice. —Lauren
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