Yes, Let 16-Year-Olds Vote
More evidence that (might) support youth voting!
Over at the Monkey Cage today, John Sides reported on new research showing that one reform -- allowing teenagers to pre-register to vote before they turn 18 -- apparently increases voting participation (see also Michael McDonald's comment).
We know young people are less likely to vote. We also know that the more one votes, the more likely one is to continue voting.
Yet 18 to 21-year-olds typically don’t get into that habit. Some are away at college, away from ties to their neighborhoods (and political structure, including familiar candidates and office) without establishing roots in their new jurisdictions. Those attending commuter schools, too, wind up existing between two communities, even if home and school are in the same political area. Others are living on their own and holding down jobs for the first time. Politics often takes a back seat. And all of them, including those still living with their parents, are less likely to have their lives together in the way they will in 10 or 20 years.
Yet they are still real, responsible citizens. In a democracy, citizens vote at least most of the time. If we want real self-government, we should find ways to encourage everyone to participate.
So it’s good to see that something -- pre-registration -- can get them to vote.
I’d go a lot further by giving all high-school-age kids the vote. I haven't seen an argument against this idea that isn’t also an argument against democracy in general (or isn't the elitist view that “democracy” should be reserved for well-informed citizens). The case is very strong for letting 16- and 17-year-olds vote, and then gets weaker if we include younger teenagers and weaker still, though interesting, for middle-school kids.
It just seems bizarre that high-school kids, and even their younger brothers and sisters, can volunteer for campaigns and influence outcomes by electioneering but are banned from casting ballots.
Voting seems more likely to become a habit if it is developed while young citizens are more rooted in their communities and have the support of their family, which has a real stake in those communities. Granted, this claim is speculative, but the evidence that pre-registration increases turnout might offer some support for it.
Nothing is stopping any state from extending the franchise to younger teens, as at least one town in Maryland, Takoma Park, has done. For anyone who wants more political participation, youth voting may be the best place to start.
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