These Teens Are Leading the Fight to Lower the Voting Age | #students | #parents

Who counts as a voter?

Answering that question has been a driving force for change throughout United States history. And in a few cities and towns, the rules have already evolved to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to participate in some races.

In 2013, Takoma Park, Maryland, became the first city in the U.S. to allow people age 16 and up to vote in municipal elections, with two other Maryland cities, Hyattville and Greenbelt, and the town of Riverdale Park, following in years since. In 2016, Berkeley, California, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that extended to 16-year-olds the right to vote in school board elections.

The legal voting age of 18 for state and federal elections is still a relatively new development in American political history, and was a largely unpopular idea with the majority of Americans until the mid-1950s. It wasn’t until 1971 that the passage of the 26th Amendment officially granted 18-year-olds the right to vote in federal elections, which was the culmination of a campaign that dated back to World War II, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced his support for lowering the draft age from 21 to 18.

Today, teenagers are again on the front lines of social change, leading movements like Black Lives Matter, March for Our Lives, and the Sunrise Movement, which have impacted the political attitudes of a generation of young people and helped spur to action millions of their older counterparts. Teen girls, in particular, have helped champion these fights: “A lot of credit goes to young people who have…helped open a lot of minds to the idea that young people have a stake in our democracy and are very eager to participate in it…and actually care about public policy, understand how it affects them, and want to have a voice influencing it,” says Brandon Klugman, campaign manager for Vote16USA, a national campaign organized by the civics education organization Generation Citizen. “Obviously, youth-led political engagement existed long before [this moment], but maybe it didn’t get the attention [it] always deserved.”

During the 2018 midterm elections, young people ages 18-24 showed up to the polls in record numbers, helping to elect the most racially and ethnically diverse — and the most female — congressional class in history, according to the Pew Research Center. A report released in May from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) found that in those midterm elections, white, Black, and Latinx women between ages 18-24 registered and voted at higher rates than their male peers; and Black and Latinx women were the most likely among all groups to say they were motivated to get involved in politics, or be active in a social movement, followed by white women. And it’s women — particularly young women of color — who stand to have their voices most amplified by the movement to expand voting rights to 16- and 17- year-olds.

Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of CIRCLE, agrees: “Anytime a person sees injustice in the system or the community, those are the people that are going to be really most committed to voting.… In particular, with cases of racism or community violence, young women, especially young women of color, have been the most passionate advocates for those issues.”

Young people — again, particularly young women — see themselves as civic actors, but social constructs have limited the ideas about how much civic responsibility teenagers should take on. “I think we do have a blind spot on what young people are capable of,” Kawashima-Ginsberg tells Teen Vogue.


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