Has the time come to lower the voting age in the United States? At the 2015 Make Progress National Summit (run by Generation Progress), House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi suggested just that. Addressing a crowd of twelve hundred young leaders in Washington, D.C., Pelosi emphasized the importance of engaging young people in politics by proposing lowering the voting age from 18. As Pelosi said: “I am all for—I’d love to hear your thoughts on it; I know you’ll let me know—for lowering the voting age to high school age, whether that’s 16 or 17.”
While 16 or 17 may sound young to some, this would not be the first time the voter age dropped significantly in the United States to include students. Back in 1971, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 with the ratification of the 26th amendment. Pressured by student activism during the Vietnam War, young people argued that if they were old enough to fight in war, they were old enough to vote. The amendment was the fastest passed in American history.
Pelosi’s comments come at a time when voter turnout amongst young people has hit an all-time low. A recent report by Tufts University and The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement showed only 19.9 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds cast ballots in the 2014 mid-term, and only 46.7 percent of young people were registered to vote. Both figures mark the lowest numbers seen in the past 40 years.
With low youth engagement in elections in mind, Nancy Pelosi’s comments bring up an interesting perspective on ways to rejuvenate the political system to better include young people. She continued: “When kids are in school, they’re so interested, they’re so engaged. And we’d like them to be at least registered before they leave.” Although some high school students already have the ability to vote during their last year of high school when they reach 18, shifting the voting age to 16 or 17 would allow greater opportunity for young people to have a say in many issues that will directly impact their future such as college affordability and education.
While lowering the voting age would have to be a national discussion, acknowledging that teenagers have a voice in politics is an important step in engaging young people both inside and outside the voting booth.