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Are Teenagers Mature Enough to Vote?

School pupils joke with each other as they leave a polling station, as anyone aged over 16 were allowed to vote in the Scottish independence referendum, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Some are trying to win 16-year-olds the right to vote in the United States. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Are 16 and 17 Mature Enough to Vote?
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In Ohio’s presidential primary recently, 17-year-olds were permitted to vote.

That’s unusual because the voting age in the United States is 18. But during this election campaign, some people want to change the voting rules.

In Ohio, a judge ruled that 17-year-olds who turn 18 before the November 8 general election can vote.

Several groups, including Generation Citizen, want local governments to permit all 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. Generation Citizen argues that lowering the voting age will increase interest in government and politics.

“A lower voting age would involve parents, teachers, and community members in the process of learning to vote, and ultimately voting themselves, raising adult voter turnout,” said Oliver York, age 16. He is a junior at a San Francisco high school and working with Generation Citizen’s “Vote 16 USA Campaign.”

Oliver York
Oliver York

Arguments against lowering the voting age include: 16- and 17-year-olds are not mature enough and would vote the way their parents do.

Here is what one person wrote on the website “It’s simply the fact that people at 16-17-years-old don't have the emotional or mental maturity of someone 20-years-old. Their minds are still crazed with the chemicals of being a teenager.”

Professor Daniel Hart of Rutgers University has studied the arguments on both sides of the voting-age issue. He found knowledge of 16- or 17-year-olds about government is about the same as for 18- and 19-year olds. There is fall off for 15-year-olds, he said.

A University of Edinburgh study found many 16- and 17-year-olds do not vote like their parents. The study reported that 40 percent of these younger voters did not vote the same way as mom and dad in Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum.

One reason for a lower voting age is that 18 is the worst age for people to begin voting, according to Scott Warren. He is executive director of Generation Citizen.

That is because at age 18 many teens leave home for the first time, either for college or a job, he said. They find themselves in a community they do not know very well.

And that makes it harder for them to learn about their new community’s voting rules and issues, Warren said.

Some countries already permit teens younger than 18 to vote.

Some examples from a recent survey by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency: Austria lowered the voting age from 18 to 16 in 2008. Argentina has allowed 16-year-olds to vote since 2012.

In Brazil, 16- and 17-year olds and those older than 70 have the option to vote. People aged 18-69 are required to vote.

Hungary allows 16- and 17-year-olds to vote if they are married. Serbia allows 16-year-olds to vote if they are employed.

Abigail Koerner, age 16, is a junior at a Washington, D.C., high school. She is disappointed she cannot vote for her Democratic presidential candidate -- Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Said Abigail: “I don't know enough about politics quite yet to make a distinction as to which party I affiliate with. But everything Bernie says about healthcare and education would benefit my life and the lives of people around me.”

Warren said teens who start voting at 16 or 17 will continue to vote when they reach 18, 19 and 20 -- ages when turnout is now very low.

“The United States now ranks 143rd in voter turnout, and we think we should be doing all we can to increase turnout,” Warren said.

In 2012, 53.6 percent of the voting-age population voted in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. That compares to 87.2 percent in Belgium, 86.4 percent in Turkey and 82.6 percent in Sweden. Belgium and Turkey require people to vote.

Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

primary – n. an election in which members of the same political party run against each other for the chance to be in a larger and more important election

process – n. a series of actions that produce something or that lead to a particular result

ultimately – adv. at the end of a process, period of time

disappoint – v. to make a person unhappy because they cannot do something that they want

affiliate – v. to closely connect (something or yourself) with or to something

benefit – v. to be useful or helpful