The voting age for president is 18, but should it be 16 instead?
The minimum voting age has been 18 ever since a constitutional amendment lowered it from 21 in 1971 for all federal elections like president. The 1970 Supreme Court decision Oregon v. Mitchell ruled that states and municipalities can still set a lower age for state and local elections, if they choose.
For decades, they largely hadn’t — until recently, when a movement has spread to lower the voting age even further for state and local elections.
17 states plus the District of Columbia now allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they will be 18 by Election Day. More than half of those states made the change in the past decade.
Takoma Park, Maryland in 2013 became the first town to lower the voting age to 16 in general elections, at least for local office.
That whole time, the voting age for federal elections like president has never budged.
What the legislation does
H.J. Res. 138 is a constitutional amendment proposal to lower the voting age to 16, for all elections (including for federal offices like president) and in all states.
This would repeal the 26th Amendment, the one which currently establishes the voting age as 18. This would mark only the second time a constitutional amendment will have been repealed, after Prohibition was overturned in 1933.
This legislation was introduced in early August by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY6).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that the amendment would expand democracy and would prevent “taxation without representation,” which was the whole point of the Revolutionary War. 16-year-olds can legally work and be taxed, but cannot currently vote.
“Over the past year, we have seen a huge wave of inspirational and passionate activism by students from all across the country. Students are demanding change on issues such as gun safety, climate change, and health care,” Rep. Meng said in a press release. “They deserve to have their voices heard at the ballot box, and to have a say in the change for which they’re vigorously advocating. It’s clear to me that they should be allowed to vote.”
“16- and 17-year-olds are legally permitted to work and they pay federal income tax on their earnings,” Meng continued. “They are legally permitted to drive motor vehicles, and if they commit crimes they are tried as adults. I think it is only fair to allow them the right to vote as well.”
Those who advocate for higher voter turnout also note that a lower voting age not only increases turnout among those in the newly-enfranchised age group, but also their parents.
What opponents say
Opponents counter that lowering the voting age is not a responsibility teenagers — who have yet to experience so much of life — should be entrusted with.
In 2016, San Francisco voters opposed a measure to lower the voting age by 48% to 52% — and that’s one of the most left-leaning cities in the country.
“Voting is also considered a privilege of adulthood. Young people must wait until the age of 21 to drink alcohol and, in California, smoke tobacco. They must wait until the age of 18 to serve their country,” the San Francisco Chronicle editorialized shortly before the vote. “It makes no sense for San Francisco to send the message that voting is a responsibility any less serious than these are.”
Opposition, as you might imagine, also comes from the right. “The liberal lawmaker [Meng] is the latest example of left-wing activists seeking to gain new voters by any means necessary,” writes a post on Fox News’ Sean Hannity’s website.
Odds of passage
The legislation, which has not yet attracted any cosponsors, has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. The likelihood of enactment is zero so long as Republicans control Congress, who generally oppose expanded voting rights.
However, even some Democrats oppose such a constitutional amendment at the federal level, even if they support lowering the voting age in theory. “The proper voting age is a state issue,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD7), the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, told Vice.