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Op-Ed: Should the U.S. Lower the Voting Age to Sixteen?

Op-Ed: Should the U.S. Lower the Voting Age to Sixteen?EXPAND
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The 2020-2021 school year, with instruction in remote settings, brought more challenges than most school years. Additionally, civic engagement grew more important than ever, as movements for racial justice gained momentum and democracy was threatened from multiple fronts. What was a teacher to do? While it sometimes seemed scary or counterintuitive, an important action was to get out of the way. Yes, teachers need to build strong relationships and provide rigorous lessons to scholars in order to prepare them for an unknown future, but teachers also need to let scholars engage and grow without interfering and stunting that progress. Therefore, having the scholars conduct research and write op-eds on topics important to them carried more weight and impact this year than in years past. Here is one of the essays that came out of that process this past school year. — Samson Patton, teacher, STRIVE Prep RISE in Green Valley Ranch

On June 4, 1919, women earned the right to vote with the help of Susan B. Anthony and others, while many women went to the streets to protest for the 19th Amendment, giving the right for all American women to vote. In 1965, the Civil Rights Act gave African Americans the vote in addition to the 14th Amendment, which stated that anyone born in the United States had the right to vote. On June 22, 1970, an amendment to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, saying that the voting age had been lowered to 18 by President Richard Nixon.

Over the years, voting hasn’t been easy for many people, and many earned it by protesting and putting their voice out there to be heard. It continues to be the case today, as some in the government are talking about letting 16-year-olds vote. On every side, there will be pros and cons, and in this case, many don’t like the idea. They should let 16-year-olds vote and should let schools help students know more about voting and who is representing. School teaches students to be responsible so that students shouldn’t depend on anyone else when it comes to voting, and teenagers were the ones that started protests so their voices could be heard.

Many people disagree with the idea that teenagers should vote for the reason that many don’t know who is who when it comes to politics or even what is happening in the United States. The article “No, We Shouldn't Lower the Voting Age to 16,” from the online Post Millennial, states, “Tell that to the teachers whose students, according to surveys, don’t know who their U.S. senator is or how to amend the Constitution.” This evidence shows that this is the reason why people think that teens should not vote: because they don’t know anything about the United States and the news. The idea is that the only thing teenagers are concentrating on is just being teenagers and staying on their phones.

However, school plays a role in voting. In the NBCNews article “A major American city may soon allow 16-year-olds to vote — and others could follow suit,” the author states, "I think that Vote 16 will help the youth of color in San Francisco establish the habit of voting at an earlier age and provide them with the support and the resources that they need to continue building on that habit as they grow older." This quote demonstrates how, if they start at an early age, young adults would be able to continue with the habit of voting while in high school and college. Also, it will help them make the right decision on who to vote for — for example, learning what the candidate represents and what is better for the future of the state or the country. That is the reason why high schools should make a class dedicated to the subject of politics, so that many students can be informed on the politicians and how to vote. This will encourage more people to vote, even help their parents vote.

Another issue that people have with a lower voting age is that being a teenager isn’t easy because teens can be manipulated a lot of times by the people they surround themselves with. In this case, it's the parents who will change their mind to vote for who they want. The Post Millennial article states, “The first being that 16-year-olds could be easily influenced, most, if not all, still live at home, and their parents' opinion of course would carry a lot of weight.” However, many do believe they should be able to vote at 16, but how can they vote for themselves and not be influenced by the people around them? Returning to the NBC article, it states, "When are you an adult? When do we trust you to make your own decisions about who you are in the world and making your way?" The evidence demonstrates that if teens want to be treated as an adult, then they should better understand what kind of people they surround themselves with. They shouldn’t be manipulated on voting by someone that they don’t think about or agree with. That is why schools should inform them on each candidate and what they represent so that 16-year-olds can be educated and know who to vote for, and also not be manipulated by anyone in the room or even outside of school. Also, schools should teach them to make decisions for themselves and to not depend on others in the future so they can start being responsible starting at 16. That will make them be a better person than those that make bad decisions. Schools can work against manipulation by teaching students at a very young age with games and activities, because that is how elementary kids learn. This should be learned in elementary, but many aren’t privileged to learn that, so what high schools can do is talk about it, set examples with real-life scenarios, and explain how to know if they are being manipulated.

It can be stressful just watching the news. Many even stopped watching politics in general, so people think that 16-year-olds should not vote for the reason that it can be stressful for them. At this point, people want teens to avoid anything with politics and have fun and just worry about teenager stuff. The article “No, 16-year-olds should not be allowed to vote'' states, “While usually, I would argue that increased democracy is a good thing, having 16-year-olds who already have a whole host of worries and stresses, have to educate themselves on each political party's manifesto is somewhat cruel.” This quote demonstrates how teens would get stressed easily, and it would make more work for them when they should only worry about themselves. But it is the opposite case for teens, as many have started social justice movements and are willing to learn and support BLM to LGBTQ+ actions. The biggest movement, however, is having their voices heard in politics by voting so they can create change on important issues. Teens were the ones that took time out of their day to be more informed and learn about politics and how they can be involved. The ones that couldn’t vote, in this case 16-year-olds, went to social media and encouraged the ones that can to vote in the 2020 election.

In conclusion, the United States should let 16-year-olds vote for the reason that they are capable of doing great things and have continued to be more involved in politics than society thinks. The government should start by making a class dedicated to politics and learning about the Constitution and the right to vote, so in the future it would help teens make a decision or even protect themselves from the law. Believe it or not, teenagers are more educated on politics than some adults, and they are the ones who are educating their grandparents and parents on important issues.

I want to include myself, because I would like to vote in the future. Waiting until I am 18 is a long time, when at 16 I was already learning about our rights and what was happening with politics. I was lucky to have a class in junior year learning about politics and how to vote, and it helped me educate my parents and for them to inform others. By junior year, I feel like every student should start learning about politics and let 16-year-olds vote.

Voting hasn’t been easy since the beginning of a new start for the United States, and it will continue to be hard. They should let 16-year-olds vote and should let schools help students know more about voting and who is representing. School teaches students to be responsible so that students shouldn’t depend on anyone else when it comes to voting, and teenagers were the ones who started protests so their voices could be heard.

Westword occasionally publishes op-eds and essays on topics of interest to the Denver community. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to editorial@westword.com, where you can also comment on this piece.

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