In many states, 16-year-olds can drive and get a job, and must pay taxes on their wages. But one thing most of them aren’t allowed to do? Vote. That’s because the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1971, sets the voting age at 18. (Before then, most Americans had to be at least 21 to vote.)
Now, the wave of students calling for stricter gun laws in the aftermath of recent school shootings in Santa Fe, Texas, and Parkland, Florida, has reignited the debate about lowering the voting age for federal, state, and local elections to 16. (A handful of U.S. cities, including Berkeley, California, and Takoma Park, Maryland, already allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections.)
Those in favor of the idea say young people are interested in and engaged in politics—and deserve to have a say at the polls. Plus, supporters argue, allowing younger teens to vote would encourage them to care more about the government.
But opponents say 16-year-olds aren’t ready for the responsibility of voting. They claim that most teens simply don’t know enough about the issues to make educated decisions at the polls. Instead of lowering the voting age, critics say, we should focus on improving civic education.
Should the voting age be lowered? Two experts weigh in.