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I have left Forbes.com for the Washington Examiner: “Don’t Let 16-Year Olds Rock the Vote” (Washington Examiner) May 3, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Since the “March for Our Lives” student demonstrations over gun violence on school campuses, the question of lowering the voting age to 16 has come to the fore. The Washington city council is now considering a proposal to do just that, and similar bills have recently been introduced in Georgia and Minnesota. The city of Tacoma, Md., was the first to allow 16-year old voting in 2013, and since then a few other cities (most notably Berkeley, Calif.) have followed suit.

It is not clear why student willingness to demonstrate now qualifies them for new adult-level responsibilities of citizenship. The last time the voting age was changed, it was lowered from 21 to 18 by the 26th Amendment to the Constitution during the Vietnam War. The argument was that if 18-year-olds could fight and die in a war, they should be able to vote for their national leaders.

But it is difficult to find a comparably compelling reason for further change now. Would we also want 16-year-olds serving on juries or signing up for the military? I think not. And if 16, why not 13, when they enter the teen years and those hormones start up?

The more we learn about the human brain and how it develops, society has increased the age of responsibility in other areas, not lowered it. Researchers generally agree that the brain is still developing until the mid-20s, with moral reasoning and abstract thought coming later than we once thought. So the drinking age has gone up to 21, and the age when kids may drive a car without any conditions has now increased to 17 or 18 under most state laws, not 16.  Simply put, the law has been moving toward greater maturity before responsibility, not less.

Advocates argue that we need greater civic engagement, and younger voting would help. Younger voters, however, have been notoriously weak about showing up at the polls. In the 2016 election, for example, only half of younger voters turned out to vote, compared with two-thirds of older voters. Growing the pool of younger voters hardly seems like a solution to the civic engagement problem. Besides, if you look at students’ civic knowledge, you would hardly deem them highly qualified to start running the republic. In the last round of national civics tests (unfortunately now only administered to eighth graders), a mere 23 percent scored as “proficient” or above. What we should be promoting among the young is better civic education before greater civic engagement.

The question is whether 16-year-old voting is likely to become a new political bandwagon. So far, only cities have moved on this and they can only make decisions about voting in their own municipal elections. States, however, including the District of Columbia, control both state and federal voting, so D.C. could decide to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote for president in the next election and beyond. The likelihood of another constitutional amendment changing the voting age nationally is not high, since it would require a two-thirds vote of both chambers of Congress and three-fourths of state legislatures to approve it. However, the possibility of the District of Columbia, or a liberal state, making the change is much higher.

If 16-year-olds voting is the answer to some problem we have, I guess I do not understand the question.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/dont-let-16-year-olds-rock-the-vote

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