We Shouldn’t Have a Voice


Photo by Nick Farabaugh

Jonathan Ross, Reporter

In the waning hours of 1970, during the court case Oregon v. Mitchell, the Supreme Court held that Congress had the authority to establish the legal voting age for federal elections. The Court based its opinion on that fact that there was an “adequate basis for concluding that 18-year-olds are mature enough to vote and that to deprive them of the franchise would be a denial of equal protection.”

This case guaranteed us the system that we know today, but also opened the door to a proposed, and worrisome, amendment to  H.R. 1 “For the People” Act. For those unaware, this bill addresses voter access, election integrity, election security, and political spending. The amendment suggested the nationwide lowering of the voting age to 16. Luckily, the amendment was voted down in Congress, but, given a similarly suggested amendment in Oregon and the growing, school-wide anxiety about the 2020 elections, it’s important to recognize the danger in this proposal.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to vote, but I know it’s a bad idea.”

As of now, I’m 17, which meanseven if the voting age had been 16—I wouldn’t have been able to vote in the 2016 election, but many of my friends would have. Frankly, that’s a terrifying thought. I don’t mean to comment on their ignorance specifically, rather on the ignorance of teenagers as a general population, myself included. It’s an ignorance attributable to various factors: our lack of life experience, our captivation by social media, and the influence of our parents (to name a few).

These traits in particular set teenagers apart from the greater population. Furthermore, they are particularly important in disproving the common counterargument that each of the aforementioned traits are applicable to adults as well. Yes, there are certainly uninformed adults, a disgustingly large number of them, in fact. However, that particularity concerns a greater issue with the political system of the nation on a whole and the attitude with which people regarding their voting responsibilities. Piling uneducated voters onto the existing base would only serve to exacerbate the issue, particularly given the overt ignorance of teenagers. How then, is a lack of experience, social media, and our parents, indicative of a lack of “adequate basis” for maturity, as discussed in the 1970’s ruling?

To put it bluntly, if it isn’t already self-evident, we’re irresponsible. The painful anti-social media rhetoric our parents spew to us does actually have some merit, especially in the political sense. This is, after all, the era of fake news. It’s the era of a tweeting president, and gullible consumers eating up the polarizing information. Still, this is absolutely a bipartisan issue; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a democratic, polarizing, Trump-tweeting equivalent. False or biased information can be blindly accepted by teenagers, oftentimes because teenagers will not take the time to research primary sources.  Additionally, and if equal import, it may be that with which we grew up. Which leads me to perhaps the largest issue with 16-year olds voting, their parents.

It’s no secret that parents have a lasting impact on their children. My parents have permanently changed the way I see politics, and I’m sure that the same is applicable to many of my classmates. There is, however, a distinct difference between an unavoidable influence and the thoughtless following of political doctrine. For example, my parents are both conservative. Still, through research and reading, I was able to form my own, albeit more liberal, opinion. Until a higher degree of mental independence occurs among our age group, our votes would be a largely copy-pasted, thoughtless, imitation of our parents’ votes.

It’s important to note, though, that the above is not wholly the fault of either the students or the parents. In the end, it comes down to the utter lack of life experience that many of us have. Yes, at 16, teenagers are able to get a job, drive, and pay taxes. But that’s about it. We aren’t able to enlist, marry, sign contracts, buy or sell property, inherit outright, and sue. Therefore, it’s only natural that, without an adequate base of real life experience, we would simply consume and mindlessly follow the information that we digest, from whatever source—whether that is conservative or liberal. It is also here that the line is drawn between maturity and a lack thereof.

Returning to Oregon v. Mitchell, I want to point out one last phrase: “denial of equal protection”. It’s something we’ve all heard before, most likely in the context of civil rights. Here is the difference between its use in the two, though: universal suffrage, employment equality, etc., are undeniably positive and equality-restoring movements; teenage voting, on the other hand, lacks an “adequate basis” for the same argument—as I suggested earlier. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to vote, but I know it’s a bad idea.