Political Participation by Youth – Part 4

Lowering the voting age is one of the many ideas floating around about how we can increase young voter participation. And, one of the most fun to talk about with students because it directly impacts them.

The strong push to lower the voting age to 16 years old is currently led by a nonpartisan group called Generation Citizen, whose mission is to ensure every young person receives an effective action civics education. They believe lowering the voting age will help cultivate lifelong participation in politics. As reported by the New York Times article, “advocates argue that lowering the voting age would increase turnout, allow teenagers to weigh in on issues that directly affect them and push schools to improve civic education.” Opponents, however, believe that young people may not be mature enough for the responsibility to vote, and may make uninformed decisions. And some critics believe the tactic is fueled by liberal politicians as a way of garnering more support.

How do young Californians feel about the issue? I know at least one who is definitely in favor, one of our next essay winners:

Matthew ForbesWestlake High School
In his essay, Matthew offers one main solution to the young voter turnout problem: abolish the age limit for voting. While he acknowledges the value of current legislative efforts aimed at increasing voter registration, including the California New Motor Voter Program, he thinks these proposals, “ignore the central reason why voter turnout is so low among young people in the first place: they just don’t feel as though their vote matters.” And Matthew understands why young people feel this way. “For almost the entirety of their lives, young people have been denied the right to vote. Until they turn 18, they will not have any formal influence on governmental decisions that impact their lives in very personal ways.” Matthew believes that lowering the voting age must be done in tandem with better civics education for students, including educating young people directly about the elections and the candidates. And if we do this, he believes young people will “grow up as lifelong participants in government, and the democratic process will seem very natural instead of very strange.”

Shelby DillBrawley High School
In her essay, Shelby outlines a few ways that we can make voting easier for young people. Her ideas include making sure all localities offer online voter registration, sending notifications to people when they turn 18 with information on how to register, and moving the day that we vote to the weekend rather than a weekday. But above all else, Shelby recommends, “teaching politics and current controversial issues to students as early as elementary school.” She highlights her own teacher, Jose Flores, as a shining example of how civics should be taught:

My teacher sparked his students’ interest in politics by first starting at the high school level and then the city level. He [urged] my fellow classmates and me to attend the monthly school board and city council meetings by giving us extra credit. During class, he invited pillars of the community to come speak to us. Not only did we see these people in action at meetings, we got to know them on a first name basis. Getting to meet political figures in our community interested us all, and we became more engaged in politics. My high school civics teacher was on to something, and his way of teaching is worth other teachers following.

Shelby, we couldn’t agree more! 


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