Why the Voting Age Should not Be Lowered to 16: Voting at 17

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Historical Perspective on Voting Eligibility
  • Shift in Voting Age and Rationale Behind It
  • Voter Turnout and Possible Effects of Voting Age Being Lowered
  • Conclusion


Youth are starting to become more and more involved in politics after the 2016 elections. Either by raising awareness through social media or protesting at the local and national level. This brings up the debate on whether the U.S. voting age should be lowered. The youth are educating themselves more than some adults and have a good grasp of what is going on. Many believe that the youth are our future and should get a say in the government. A 17-year-old should be allowed to vote because young people are expected to follow the law but have no say in it. Numerous other countries have a lowered voting age and there seems to be no detrimental effect. Even in our own country, there are cities that have lowered the voting age for local elections and had a positive effect. We will pose arguments as to why the voting age should not be lowered to 16. The voting age should be lowered to 17 and not 16 because it will give youth at least a few months to formulate some original opinions before giving real power in the voting booth. Lowering it by only one year also compromises with people who disagree. It will still allow more people to go to the polls, but it also gives them extra time to gain experience with the government. The main argument on not lowering it is that even though more youth are growing a factual opinion, many of them still succumb to peer pressure with their lesser experience. However, for people over 18, there is no rule that prohibits people with no experience to vote. We have lowered the voting age before, why not do it again.

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Historical Perspective on Voting Eligibility

There is a long history of changing voting eligibility, this is not a new idea. At the very beginning stages of our country, only white property-owning men could vote. After the property-owning requirement gradually faded, there was still a racial divide. The Civil war changed that. Racial restrictions were officially removed, but not practiced. It was not until the civil rights movement starting in 1954, that African Americans could make a meaningful impact in the polls. Then, in 1920 the 19th amendment granted women suffrage. People argued that women were not as educated as men and would not vote well. They also argued that they would just vote however their husbands did. This was simply and obviously not true. The U.S. has come a long way since the beginning of our democracy. We keep innovating to include all citizens and their ideas to make it the best country it can be. Before 1970 the voting age was 21. This argument mostly began after world war II because if young men were drafted into war they should also get a say in the government. This then gained more momentum during the Vietnam war for the same reasons. Most U.S. soldiers going in the front lines were 19. A common slogan gained popularity--''Old enough to fight, old enough to die'' and essentially vote. The first proposed constitutional amendment to lower the voting age was in 1971. It passed the Senate unanimously. In the House of Representatives, only 19 out of 419 congressmen opposed it. There, it was ratified in the shortest period of any in history. It took only four months. Then, “The Supreme Court ruled in 1970 that Congress could lower the federal voting age, but it did not have the power to set the voting age for local or state elections. On July 5, 1971, President Richard Nixon formally certified the 26th Amendment of the Constitution. This added 11 million potential voters to the electorate. 50% of these voters cast their ballot in the 1972 presidential election” ( editors, 2019). Another argument for lowering the voting age was because 18-year-olds were able to get married, work, and had to pay taxes like any other adult. Throughout all of history, there was always backlash and huge controversy. People simply did not want to give up their power in exchange for a more diverse view of the world. These were in retrospect, however, morally necessary. This country was built on the idea that everyone is created equal. If we only let a certain group of people have a say in the government, what will happen to everyone else? They will get no say to their future and be discredited. We need to stay true to the core value of we the people. We need to act accordingly through voting and electing officials who have the people’s intentions at heart.

Shift in Voting Age and Rationale Behind It

Views of society shifted and changed many local elections because of a shift in demographics. The same would happen if the voting age was lowered to 17. There are many examples of these views changing in our own country. In Berkeley, California, they passed an ordinance allowing 16-year-olds to vote in school board elections. San Francisco’s proposition to lower the voting age gained 48 percent of the vote and will return to the ballot in 2020. “Legislators have also proposed an amendment to the Oregon Constitution that would lower the voting age from 18 to 16” (Griggs). In our own state, the Iowa Constitution states the voting age provision as a grant, but the election code states it as a restriction (§48A.5). However, the Constitution has an amendment granting municipal corporations home rule power to determine local affairs and government (Section 38A). If the voting age law was changed to make it a grant instead of a restriction, a city could take action to lower its voting age. Iowa already allows 17-year-olds to vote in presidential primaries and caucuses. “Young people made up 15% of total caucus-goers in 2016 for a total estimate of 53,000 young people. 11% of eligible young people showed up” (CIRCLE). As a result, youth participation in the 2016 caucuses appears to be high, but not higher than that of the 2008 caucuses which were 15%. In the 2016 Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton narrowly won the Democratic caucus against Bernie Sanders with 49.84% of the vote (CIRCLE). Think about it this way, if a few more youth showed up to caucus and voted for Sanders, he could have potentially won the caucus. It was that close. Many believe that youth do not have power at even the local polls, but they do. If the voting age for presidential elections is lowered, we can voice our own problems and have a say in our own future.

Voter Turnout and Possible Effects of Voting Age Being Lowered

The U.S. is a signatory to the UN Declaration of Human Rights. It clearly states that elections should be held “by universal and equal suffrage.” The U.S. and many other countries fall short. There are “75 million Americans denied the right to vote because they are younger than 18” (Piper, 2019). This sets them up to be systematically disenfranchised. We are established as a country on the principle that we the people warrant a voice in our own government. “Universal suffrage is where one gets a voice not because they are a member of the right group or rich enough, but just because they are a member of this society with a stake in its future” (Piper, 2019). The appeal of democracy is giving the power of the government over to the people. We need to follow through. Allowing 17-year-olds the right to vote will also help voter turnout. It is widely believed that the earlier someone votes, the more they will vote in the future. Young people are getting more and more engaged in politics by learning about it in their history classes. Voting is habitual and they will likely stay engaged and gain the habit if the right is extended to them. There is no civics test or educational requirements for someone over 18 to vote, therefore the argument for youth not having enough understanding is obsolete. A small poll was conducted at Waukee High School and 53.3% of senior students say that they have become more invested in staying current in politics since the 2016 elections. People also argue that youth will vote only for what their parents or friends want. They are worried that parents would just threaten or manipulate their children in voting for their own campaign. The argument just circles back to the past on not allowing minorities to vote like African Americans and women in fear of a “bad” vote. Also, “in the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, 40 percent of the 16- and 17-year-olds voted differently than their parents” (NYRA). Young people can have jobs, pay taxes, drive, join the armed forces at 17 with parental consent, be a primary caregiver, and participate in politics through political campaigns and activism. They should get a say in their future, especially on decisions that will last decades.


Youth activism is becoming more and more prevalent in recent years. There was an increase in the amount of youth advocacy for gun control in the wake of the Parkland shooting. The youth climate strike brought together over 163 countries on all seven continents with over 2,500 events scheduled. This was inspired by one Swedish 16 year old, Greta Thunberg, and was one of the biggest mass strikes about global warming in history (Barclay). Saying that youth simply are not involved in civics and do not care is very untrue. After what the previous generation left, we, the youth, are here to gather the pieces to fix a breaking world. Lowering the voting age is a step in the right direction. It shows that our country cares about the welfare of the youth and what their opinions are. In all truthfulness, the direction our government is currently heading will not be sustainable for long. We need to be impartial to everyone in this country for it to continually be successful, even our youth. The U.S. is built on diversity and prides itself on being a democratic republic where anyone can voice their opinions without fear of persecution. Lowering the voting age to 17 will be a beginning step in restoring and building equity in our country. 

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