NO: Voting age should not be lowered to 16

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The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, July 1, 2018 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

By: Nicholas R. Okazaki
Kaiser High School, Class of 2019

During America’s last presidential election, the voter turnout was merely 59.7%. In attempts to ameliorate this poor show of participation, many individuals, including the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have proposed a lowering of the minimum voting age to 16. However, lowering the age requirement is not a prudent decision due to psychological factors, external influences on young voters, and the marked difference in responsibility and knowledge between 16 and 18-year-olds.

One of the major problems behind lowering the minimum voting age involves the psychology of an adolescent brain. Certain executive functions, or neurological skills, can either operate with or without the influence of emotion, known as hot cognition and cold cognition, respectively. Proponents of lowering the minimum voting age cite that by 16 years of age, cold cognition is as developed as it is in adults. However, cold cognition is not applicable to the tempestuous nature of politics. Politics engenders intense emotion and fervor in voters, and they can be subject to social pressure or engage in disagreement; these conditions cause the brain to utilize hot cognition, resulting in hasty and often biased judgment. In 18-year-olds, hot cognition is still developing and may not be fully developed until age 21; to give 16-year-olds the right to vote would intensify impetuous judgement.

Another major problem is that the votes cast by these young voters are susceptible to outside influences. Unlike 18-year-olds, those aged 16 have yet to attend college, and thus, are more prone to parental pressure. In some cases, politically zealous parents may indoctrinate their child to choose a certain candidate or vote along party lines. Additionally, opponents may argue that peer pressure doesn’t disappear for a college student – peer pressure would be the same for a 16-year-old as it would be for an 18-year-old. The problem with this argument is evident in a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The subjects were 3,600 males and females aged between 10 and 30. The study concluded that resistance to peer pressure actually increases linearly from age 14 to age 18, regardless of an individual’s ethnic and socio-economic background. This study proves that peer pressure would impact a 16-year-old more than an 18-year-old, meaning that with a lowering of the minimum voting age, many biased votes would be cast; we cannot know the extent to which these young voters would be externally influenced.

Perhaps most importantly, 16-year-olds will not be able to realize the real-life consequences that result from their voting decisions – they are not yet independent. For a 16-year-old, employment provides the closest form of insight into the life of an independent adult. Only about 9% of 16-year-olds are employed. Additionally, the differences in responsibilities acquired by 16 and 18-year-olds is substantial. Most 18-year-olds must buy their own food and water, provide their own shelter, pay for their own transportation, and ensure their own safety. They are also more versed in laws due to being afforded important legal obligations: an expansion in taxes, eligibility for jury duty, and trial as an adult in a court of law. Although it is just a two-year difference in age, there are significant changes in responsibility and knowledge that occur upon reaching the legal age of adulthood.

It is critical that our government is built by voters who are best equipped rationally to choose the most suitable politicians. Although lowering the voting age may increase voter turnout, the quality of the votes will surely suffer. The question we should be asking is whether we value quality or quantity.

YES: Voting age should be lowered to 16

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The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, July 1, 2018 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

By: May Song
Kaiser High School, Class of 2020

In a study conducted by Pew Research, the United States placed 31st in voter turnout out of the world’s top 34 developed countries. To combat such a low turnout rate, many have proposed that we lower the voting age from 18 to 16. Lawmakers in Michigan and Washington D.C. have introduced such a piece of legislation. The call for this measure has only been heightened by the efforts of students from Stoneman Douglas High School, who are fighting for stricter gun control measures but cannot vote for them.

If voting privileges were extended to 16-year-olds, voter turnout would increase. According to UC Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project, only 50-60% percent of the voting population in America casts their ballots in the presidential elections. Lowering the voting age would ameliorate this problem and ensure that all citizens are represented in an election. Younger generations have proven to have more initiative to vote, according to a study done in Denmark. 18-year-olds were far more likely to cast their “first vote” than 19-year-olds, and every month of extra age in those years resulted in a decline in “first vote” turnout. Takoma Park, Maryland lowered its voting age to 16 in 2013, and found that registered voters under 18 had a turnout four times higher than that of voters over 18. Researchers from the Austrian Science Fund found that lowering the voting age did not have a negative impact on input legitimacy and the quality of democratic decisions.

Additionally, younger citizens are increasingly more involved in politics and activism as time progresses. According to a 2012 study done by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, a majority of teens are involved in improving their communities through fundraising, volunteering, or community problem solving. They also spend time at school learning about critical citizenship and media literacy and how to evaluate information online. t71% of teens have volunteered and 61% have worked with others to solve problems affecting their school, city, or neighborhood. All of these statistics, the study concluded, point to the conclusion that teens of this day and age are far more likely to be politically engaged.

One might argue that citizens under the age of 18 are simply too immature or easily swayed. With the presence of social media in teens’ lives, it seems doubtful that teens do not get influenced by what they see on the Internet. However, we must place more faith in these young citizens. Rather than denouncing them as immature, we should instead look at what is needed to make a “good vote.” When citizens vote or make an informed decision, they utilize their cold cognitive abilities, which are used in calm situations where the ability to reason logically with facts is of utmost importance. Studies of cold cognition, according to American Psychologist, have shown that the skills necessary to make such informed decisions are firmly in place by the age of 16.

It is in our nation’s best interest to lower the voting age. Not only has our nation lowered the voting age before,but statistics consistently illustrate how having younger votes increases the voter turnout. If we truly are a nation of democracy and innovation, we should recognize that adolescents are increasingly engaged in politics and willing to take an active stance on their beliefs.