Lowering the voting age to 16 is a bold idea to strengthen our democracy

We know that when people develop civic habits at a younger age, they’re more likely to stick

Research suggests that lowering the voting age can improve voter turnout, spur civic engagement, and encourage effective civic education. So on February 18th, 2019 we proposed The Our Future Our Vote Act, which sought to change the Oregon constitution to allow 16 year-olds to vote. While it failed during that legislative session we are continuing to work with Vote16 USA, and also doing culture shift work and engaging our communities in dialogue around this important voting rights issue.

“If I can be tried like an adult, why can’t I vote like an adult? I pay income tax like an adult, I drive like an adult, I can be tried and sentenced as an adult… Why isn’t my voice important enough until I turn 18?”

Christine Bynum, La Salle High School

hear it from the youth

Natalie Khalil

Lake Oswego High School

“Sixteen year olds have to take civics classes in Oregon so it makes sense that while you’re learning about the government you’re simultaneously participating in it. Sixteen year olds will also make lifelong voters. It can be a family situation where you have the entire family talking about policies while learning about the history of your government.”

Christine Bynum

La Salle High School

“If I can be tried like an adult, why can’t I vote like an adult? I pay income tax like an adult, I drive like an adult, I can be tried and sentenced as an adult… Why isn’t my voice important enough until I turn 18?”

Connor Gabor

South Eugene High School

“During my time in high school, I’ve learned about the importance of grassroots organizing. I’ve been a volunteer on numerous statewide and local campaigns and during the 2018 general election I was worked as a staff member for Congressman Peter DeFazio’s campaign. I also ran a county-wide advocacy organization, focused on empowering youth voices, all while being ineligible to vote.”

Maria Torres

South Salem High School

“Together we’re fighting for a better future. We need to be able to take our work to the ballot and protect the policies we’re working so hard to pass, and we deserve to have a voice.”


Myth #1

Not Mature Enough

This gut reaction is misguided. It is true that research exists showing 16-year-olds’ brains are still developing and they do not perform as well as older adults in impulse-driven situations in which emotions run high. However, the decision-making process for voting does not fall into this impulse-driven category. Rather, it depends on “cold cognition,” a thought out decision- making process in which 16-year-olds perform just as well as adults.14 Research shows that 16-year-olds are indeed ready to vote.15 We need to work to get past this initial gut reaction, especially since an initial, negative response usually does not even begin to consider how lowering the voting age can improve our democracy as a whole.

Myth #2

Not Real Adults

16-year-olds play an important role in our society, and age has special significance in our culture. 16-year-olds can drive, work up to 44 hours per week in non-hazardous jobs, pay taxes, and be tried for crimes as adults. The legal definition linking adulthood to the age of 18 should not affect voter eligibility. It is also important to emphasize that these efforts are to lower only the voting age to 16. All other legal age limits should be set in accordance with what is best for each individual issue. Our country has set the driving age, in most states, at 16, and the drinking age at 21.

Myth #3

Will Copy Their Parents’ Vote

Data from the 2014 Scottish independence referendum suggests this claim is untrue. A survey conducted prior to the referendum found that over 40 percent of young people had different voting intentions than a parent interviewed. This claim will need to be studied more in the United States, but given the data on youth political preferences, it seems that young people demonstrate and express political beliefs independent of those of their parents.

around the world and in the u.s.a.

Two Maryland cities have successfully extended municipal voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds. In 2013, Takoma Park 16- and 17-year-olds voted at twice the rate of voters 18 and older. Residents also support the measure: In an exit poll of an April 2014 Takoma Park special election, 72% of participants supported keeping voting rights for 16- and 17-year-olds in city elections. In 2016, San Francisco came close to passing a similar measure, Proposition F, which would have lowered the voting age to sixteen for all local elections. It came close with 48% in support of the proposition. Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, and the United Kingdom have extended voting rights to 16-year-olds for national, regional, or local elections.