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.