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Extending the Vote to Teens

Woman with Vote Here sign

What happens if we lower the voting age?

In case you missed it, 16-year olds can now vote in local elections in Takoma Park, MD beginning this November. (Audio clip at link below.) Research indicates that earlier voting may help build stronger turnout among younger voters. Federal elections require a voter to be 18 years of age in the US.**

Takoma Park Opens Voter Rolls To 16-Year-Olds | WAMU 88.5 – American University Radio: “Like getting your driver’s license, or graduating from high school, taking part in the democratic process is another sign of growing up. But in Takoma Park, Md., teens will be reaching that milestone a bit earlier than kids in most communities, thanks to a change this year in the city’s charter to allow residents ages 16 and older to vote in local elections.

Takoma Park Councilman Tim Male led the charge to lower the voting age as part of a larger set of voting reforms passed in April, including extending suffrage to former felons and instituting same-day registration. Male says lowering the voting age wasn’t initially on his agenda, until he looked into similar reforms in Europe, where studies in Austria and Denmark have suggested positive outcomes from the change.”

“What they found is that 16 and 17-year-olds show up to vote,” Male says. “They understand the issues, at least as well as 18, 19, and 20-year-olds do. And then — for me at least — even more importantly, if you start them voting at 16 or 17 there’s some evidence that they will keep voting when they get to 18, 19, and 20.” In the U.S., that age group is notorious for low turnout.

Research on vote quality (teens vote as sensibly as older people) and a look at Austria where 16-year olds can vote (effects are largely positive).

FairVote’s Position on extending the vote 
FairVote supports expanding suffrage to 16- and 17-year-olds in municipal elections. Extending voting rights to people after they turn 16 may be a proposal that surprises some, but the latest research is a revelation. All evidence suggests that cities will increase turnout by allowing citizens to cast their first vote after turning 16. The reason is simple. Many people at 16 and 17 have lived in their communities for years and are taking government classes in high school. That combination results in more people exercising their first chance to vote if they are 16 or 17 than if they are unable to vote until they have left home and school.

A voting age of 18 means that many people won’t get a chance to vote in city elections until they are nearly 20. A detailed study of voting age and voters in Denmark ( found that 18-year-olds were far more likely to cast their “first vote” than 19-year-olds, and that every month of extra age in those years resulted in a decline in “first vote” turnout. Allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections will enable them to vote before leaving home and high school, and establish a life-long habit of voting. […]

**Nearly half of all U.S. states have changed policies or enacted legislation that will allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, if they will be 18 at the time of the corresponding general election. 

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