The legal voting age has been 18 for forty years now, but some people would like it to be lower, at least for their local elections.
Critics of the young people sleeping on cardboard at Occupy Wall Street argue the next generation should engage in the political process, not merely protest it. But some very politically engaged young people in Lowell, Massachusetts, are revealing that the political system doesn’t exactly welcome their engagement.
Earlier this year, 1,500 members of the United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) launched a campaign in Lowell to lower the voting age to 17 for city elections. The entire effort, from fundraising, to door knocking to lobbying legislators, was organized and led by the teens. They made an eloquent case for lowering the voting age.
“When you’re 17, that’s when most of us are seniors,” said Carline Kirksey, one of the youth leaders of the campaign. “You have more adult responsibilities. You can join the military. You can be tried as an adult in court.”
Another organizer Corinne Plaisir chimes in, saying that at 18 many young people are off at college. Figuring out the process all alone and voting unceremoniously by absentee ballot aren’t exactly enticements to civic participation. Instead, argues Plaisir, if young people can start voting in high school as part of their civics education, “It’s a prime time to engage in our civic rights.” Plus research has shown that when teens engage in even mock elections, their voter turnout as adults increases by almost 10 percent.
Better be careful, that sort of things can get you in trouble in Florida. I support this idea, and like Yglesias I’d be happy to see it extended, to more elections and younger voters. Of course, we’d need a political system – not to mention a society – that actually valued higher levels of participation for that to happen. Given the broad and sustained war on voting that is the hallmark of the modern Republican Party, I don’t see that happening any time soon.