Voting rights have been a defining fight for countless groups in America since the inception of American democracy. At the beginning of America, only white, male landowners were entrusted with the basic right to vote. However, over centuries of political plight and protest, groups from women to African-Americans were enfranchised. The last major group that fought for and received suffrage was 18-year olds.
Prior to the 26th amendment, the voting age in America was held at 21, but continual backlash towards conscription into unpopular wars (i.e. Vietnam) and a growing divide between the social views of the younger generation and the aging politicians caused enough momentum for the voting age to be lowered to 18 in 1971. However, this has left a large group of Americans still out of the reach of the American ideals of democracy: 16- and 17- year olds.
On some level, it may seem ridiculous to entrust 16- year olds with the right to vote. The argument is often made that these teenagers are too immature and ill-informed to make responsible voting decisions. However, this is nothing more than an attempt to discredit the experience and sophisticated political ideas that younger people can have. In today's era of instant information and 24-hour news cycles, so many young people have access to a world of information that many adults do not even fully access. More than ever, teenagers are alerted to news stories faster, research quicker, and dive deeper into the nuanced political issues that underlie these new stories.
A great example of this would be the activists that sprung out of the Parkland High School shooting in February 2018. Survivors of the tragic shooting like David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez became major advocates for gun control and reform, all while being denied the right to vote due to their age.
To demonstrate the tragedy of this, just look at what happened when the Florida House of Representatives turned down a bill that would have banned assault weapons. Dozens of Parkland shooting victims were in attendance when the bill was voted against, and yet not one of them could have the basic right to vote against any of those representatives that voted against their political ideology and best interests.
Just as it was in the 1970s, we are seeing a major shift in the ideologies of the young generation and the aging, incumbent politicians. Issues from gun reform to LGBTQ+ rights to marijuana legalization have drastic generation gaps, and yet a wide range of individuals representing the new majority of thought in America are not allowed to vote for representatives that will represent this new generation of ideology.
Even on a local level, teenagers are not allowed to vote for the people that make decisions on their behalf in school boards and city halls. Every day, teenagers go to high schools where every aspect of their day, from the curriculum to the teacher pay, to the distribution of funds between organizations is decided by a board where few to no students were able to vote for a representative that reflects their personal views on how their school should be run.
With more and more issues directly impacting 16- and 17- year olds while they are continually denied the right to vote, it is time to have a serious discussion about the merits of enfranchising millions of 16- and 17- year olds in America. In nothing more, this issue can be boiled down to the classic "taxation without representation." The legal working age is 16 and the IRS is more than willing to tax any money that these teens earn.
However, these teens still cannot make any decision about how much of their money is taken and what it is being spent on. The ideology that this country was founded on, no taxation without representation, still does not reach out to the 12 million 16 and 17-year-olds in America. When fundamental American principles are denied to such a large base of Americans, it is time to reevaluate the voting age.