Why on Earth can’t I vote? (Opinion)

The voting age should be lowered to 16 to empower young people and decrease ageist discrimination

Students+demonstrate+great+political+awareness+and+fight+for+their+beliefs.

Students demonstrate great political awareness and fight for their beliefs.

The first thing we learn about the American Revolution is “NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION”. That gets hammered into our heads. It’s the main driving force of a rebellion, of the creation of a nation. Now, the United States of America is a place of liberty and democracy, a place where everyone has a voice and doesn’t have to serve a government that isn’t their own. 

Wait a minute, that’s not true. That’s a lie. The United States is not a place where everyone has a voice and doesn’t have to serve a government that isn’t their own. You know why?

People under the age of 18 who pay income taxes can’t vote. 

What a load of baloney. Why on Earth can’t people who contribute at least 12% of their hard-earned cash have a say in the government? What reason is good enough to hold back the political efficacy of young people? 

Turns out a lot of people have given me a lot of reasons why they think my age denies me the right to vote. So I put them all into a list, and you can read why they’re all either insignificant, misrepresentations, or just plain wrong. 

“Your brains aren’t fully developed, so you can’t be trusted to make political decisions.”

Alright, I have to admit that at least the first part of this isn’t baloney. Brains aren’t fully developed until around age 25. However, if we know this science now, why hasn’t the voting age been changed to 25? Because that science doesn’t really matter to the United States when it comes to suffrage. The voting age actually used to be at 21, which is a bit closer to 25 than 18, but it was lowered to 18 because of the Vietnam War. Young men ages 18 through 26 were subject to military drafting, and people didn’t want to risk their lives for their country and not be able to vote. This event proves that the voting age is arbitrary and that it can be changed to account for the sacrifices of Americans. 

But if you want to look a bit closer at the science, I will oblige you. The teenage brain is underdeveloped in that its decision-making is based more on emotions than reason. That sounds bad, like, “Shouldn’t voters be looking at all the facts and logic instead of going on instinct?” Yeah, that’s true. However, I don’t think that emotion-based voting suddenly disappears when your brain is fully developed or is even always bad. Look at Congress, for example. Politicians are constantly bashing each other and using loaded language and super-gluing themselves to their party. Or you can look at Tweets from our own president. Or look at yourself when I say trigger words like “abortion”, “2nd Amendment”, and “LGBTQ+ rights”. Feeling any emotions? See what I mean? Adults, like teens, can be very reasonable and diplomatic, but they are plenty emotional, too, and they often let feelings of hatred, anger, and loyalty get in the way of logic. All of these feelings stem from passion, which is a good thing in a democracy. Do you want to be ruled by the apathetic? 

(By the way, people used to say women are too emotional to vote, so…)

Another side effect of an underdeveloped brain is trouble with thinking long-term. However, this shouldn’t matter very much in the case of youth suffrage. Adult voters have messed a lot of things up with their short-term decisions, and teens are trying to fix them. For example: climate change. I went to the Global Climate Strike in Denver, and there were a ton of young people there, rivaling the older attendees in numbers even though there are way more adults than kids in the world. And almost all of the speakers at the rally were young people. One of them was eight years old. The climate change movement is championed by kids and teens even though adults have known that it’s real long before we were born (If you still think climate change is fake, you can go and sit by the Flat Earth Society.). Adult politicians have been consistently choosing short-term profits over the long-term health of our planet while teens try to use their limited power to save the Earth. 

Anyway, choosing what you want right now is kind of the point of voting. If everyone voted on what they think they’ll want in twenty years, our government’s policies wouldn’t be an accurate representation of the current America and its current needs. Of course, we should vote to solve future problems that need to be prevented now, like climate change, but in general, we need to solve present issues.

There aren’t only “downsides” to having a younger brain. The teenage years are a window of time where it is easiest to learn and make connections. This means that it’s easier for us to incorporate various perspectives into our decisions instead of being stuck in a narrow mindset. Young people can place their country over their party better than adults, an essential capability in the current political environment (or any political environment, really). 

“You don’t make that much money anyway, so your taxes aren’t a great enough contribution to earn the right to vote, and that little bit of taxes won’t affect you.”

If teens’ taxes aren’t a big contribution, then they shouldn’t have to pay them. Except I don’t think most people would like that idea. $1 billion came from tax payers under 18 in 2008. Teens’ taxes add up. 

And taxes are significant for teens themselves. A lot of young people are supporting their families or saving for college with their income. The money they pay to the government they don’t get a say in would be really helpful. That money could make the difference between success and failure later in life. 

“You aren’t done with your education.”

True, but pretty much all 16-year-olds know how to read and how to look up information about candidates. If a voter read up on every candidate for every office, they’d actually be more qualified than is required since literally nothing is required of voters besides age, citizenship, and paperwork. A bunch of states let 16-year-olds drop out of high school without parental consent (though Colorado isn’t one of those states; you’ve gotta be 17 here), so a huge chunk of voters could, theoretically, not have more formal education than your average teenager. And since quality and amount of education vary throughout the country (i.e. schools with low funding have four-day weeks), all voters will never be completely educated, even if everyone finished high school. There is no guarantee that voters are educated, even with the voting age at 18, so no one can complain that young people wouldn’t know enough to vote.

If anything, the fact that most teens are still in school should be a point in their favor. School is easily the largest mandatory activity every single American has to complete, but its participants have no say in what and how they learn. Only those who have already finished with public school and now have larger priorities get to form the system. Even parents aren’t as qualified as students. They have an idea of what they want their child to be, and that might not agree with what the child wants or needs. Teen voters are the best representatives of the school system. 

“Young people aren’t experienced.”

So what? Experience isn’t required to vote. If it were, the only people who’d be allowed to vote on abortion laws would be mothers, almost-mothers, and doctors. The only people who’d be allowed to vote on LGBTQ+ rights would be queer people. The only people who’d be allowed to vote on the federal budget would be accountants and financial advisors. And we know that certainly isn’t the case.

Anyway, being a teenager doesn’t automatically mean you’re less experienced than adults. Experience is determined by what you’ve gone through, not your age. 

“Teens can’t even use can-openers.”

No joke, I actually saw this as a reason why young people shouldn’t vote. And it’s just one example of old people mocking teens for not knowing how to use old technology. “How do you frighten this new generation? Put them in a room with a rotary phone, an analog watch, and a TV with no remote. Then leave directions for use in cursive.” It’s really terrible that the youngins can’t use this stuff. Don’t you know how voting works? First, you have to call with a rotary phone to make a voting appointment. You need your analog watch to make sure you get there on time. Then they have you watch a voting tutorial on a TV with no remote. To then enter the Grand Room of the Mighty Polls, you must open a can of olives with a can-opener. You finally receive your ballot. It’s in cursive.

Stupid. First of all, most teens can use all of that stuff just fine. Secondly, it obviously doesn’t matter if you can’t drive a horse-drawn carriage or churn some butter when voting. Those who mock “this new generation” for their lack of knowledge concerning antiquated technologies just want to build themselves up by putting others down. They probably think to themselves each night, “I may be a sour old prat, but at least I can use a can-opener. Well, until the arthritis kicks in.”

“Adah, you’re pretty awesome, and I trust you to vote intelligently, but some of your peers… yeesh.”

Let’s be honest: everyone who says that to me is probably just being polite, but there’s a lot of judgement that goes around with teens. That white girl in tons of AP classes is totally eligible to vote, but that Mexican kid with all the piercings that’s struggling in regular classes? Hmm, maybe not. 

Nope nope nope. That is NOT how democracy works. “All men are created equal” (Source: the Declaration of Independence, emphasis added), not “all men are equal once they get through their emo phase”. Stop comparing people. Stop putting people below others based on their passions and specialties. 

In my experience, most people dehumanize the young and liberal because they disagree with them. Dehumanization takes power away, and you don’t want your political enemies to have any power.

“Teens will just vote the same as their parents.”

Have you met the stereotypical teenager? Super rebellious. Doesn’t do a thing their parents say. Spits on tradition. Definitely wouldn’t vote with their parents. 

Not all of us are like that, but we are all capable of individual thought, I assure you. One of the benefits of going to school (unless you’re home-schooled) is we meet tons of different people with different opinions that have different influences. You’re influenced by those around you for your entire life. And your parents will always have a little sway. 

Before women were allowed to vote, people said they would all vote the same as their husbands. Fun fact: that didn’t happen. Today, we see political trends that are largely centered around gender. More women are Democrats, and more men are Republicans. My own parents are in different political parties. Women didn’t all vote with their husbands, and teens won’t all vote with their parents. 

“Teens don’t care enough about politics.”

I care, obviously. So do the kids wearing Obama shirts, MAGA hats, and Reagan socks. So do the kids trying to turn political Socratic Seminars (intendedly friendly discussions meant for increasing understanding of a topic) into debates. So do the aforementioned kids at the climate strikes. 

And as for those who don’t care, why would they? They don’t get to vote. Maybe, once they turn eighteen, they’ll start caring. If not, then neither their age nor their ability to vote was what affected their lack of attention to politics. Some people will never care, no matter their age. 

During the 2016 election, I was in eighth grade, willingly listening to NPR’s political coverage in the car with my mom on the way to horseback riding lessons. My family stayed up late to watch the election results come in, and when Trump was declared the winner, my little brother (a third grader at the time) yelled in disappointment, “Come on, Donald!” We McMillans do care more than most, I will admit. However, a lot more people started caring at school that day. My whole middle school was required to vote in our own mini election for educational purposes. In social studies classes, we researched all of the candidates, had discussions about the pros and cons of each, and eventually cast our pretend ballots. Everyone in my class participated, including the rowdy kids in the back. Those who normally ignored everything our teacher said were at rapt attention. Once they were given the opportunity to voice their political opinions, they did. If we give all teens this opportunity, and not just in a fake school election, they will care. 

 

But in general, I’m really fed up with how young people are treated in general. Many scholars have concluded that sexism and racism are structural problems in America; ageism is also a structural issue in America, if not the whole world. I have faced more discrimination based on my age than on my gender, and that’s a lot coming from a woman involved in STEM. Everything from our government to the way we talk to young people is evidence of this bigotry. If you’re “too young”, no one cares what you think. No one respects you. We’re told, “Respect your elders.” Why don’t we tell our kids to respect everybody? Including themselves? 

It really hurts when I hear my own classmates say they don’t want to vote, that they don’t trust themselves. This is because we’re told our whole lives that we’re worthless until we pass an age line. Everyone’s opinion matters. Your opinion may change as you age, but that doesn’t alter the importance of your perspective. 

Of course, we should treat little kids that can’t do basic functions differently since they need guidance, but our differences in treatment should be based solely on physical age differences, not age stereotypes. We need to look at individuals’ behavior, not their age. 

And I can’t bring up ageism without mentioning the generation wars. Think “ok boomer”. We shouldn’t discriminate against any generation at all. Time is a construct. Time doesn’t determine the character of a people; society determines the character of a people. For example, a classmate of mine said something along the lines of, “Back at that time, cruelty was normal in political leaders.” Instead, this classmate should have said, “In that society, cruelty was normal in political leaders.” Behavioural trends are with societies, not time periods. Yes, societies change over time, but time is not the master of humanity. Humanity is its own master. 

We shouldn’t discriminate based on someone’s generation or any factor that is rooted in time. Empowering teenagers with the vote is the first step in fixing ageism.