Teens, Voting, and the Elections

―Jamie McEachin, Head Copy Editor―

Adulthood is an intangible thing; there is no line that is crossed, no test that is passed, or anything that can definitively stamp the title of ‘adult’ on anyone in the world. But in the United States, there is one event in a citizen’s life that is the most recognizable step towards adulthood: voting. Though our cultural fervor for democracy has faded from a desire for individuals to be directly and passionately involved in their own representation to a slightly more than lukewarm participation, casting that first vote is still an important rite of passage.

gilmore-and-snyder-2The age of this first vote has been 18 years old since the 26th Amendment was passed, granting people of this age the right to take charge of their own leadership. Facilitated by the Vietnam War, this amendment was signed into law in 1971; it was a victory for the young Americans who found that while they were not too young to be drafted to fight for their country, they were still too young to have any say about what went on in the country for which they were dying in an unpopular war.

While some people think teenagers are too young to vote, other believe teenagers voting may be an essential factor in our political system because of that unique advantage: their youth. Mr. Christopher Prior, a Government teacher and Politics Club sponsor for Cosby, says, “I’m biased, because I’m a government teacher, but I think that it’s incredibly important for young people to vote. Nobody else in the electorate has the perspective that they do, nobody else has the view of issues that they do. You know, young people are going to be in this for a lot longer than I am, or the people older than I am, so they have a vested interest in making their voices heard.”

Mr. Prior continues, “I think that just by numbers, millennials are the biggest generationgilmore-and-snyder-1 in the history of the country; bigger than the baby boomers, much bigger than my generation. So just in terms of sheer numbers, you guys have a lot more influence than previous generations have had in the way that the country goes. And I think that understanding that and tapping into it could make you a real, viable political power.”

While young voters have an advantage, Mr. Prior says that the only way to see results is to organize the young political movement. “I think what young people don’t have is the strength that other generations do in organization. The Sanders’ campaign was a really interesting example of what happens when young people get behind a candidate, we saw the impact that that had. And Obama’s election in 2008 was the same way; that was a historical election, so there was a lot more going for it, but I think Sanders is a great example of what can happen when young people get loyal behind a candidate and push an agenda.”

gilmore-and-serraoIf controversial or inspirational candidates are not a surefire way to get 18 year olds to vote, than they do increase their involvement in politics. “Its interesting, it’s definitely increasing awareness, I’m noticing that in my classes. People are a lot more plugged in because of, like what we had with Donald Trump’s audiotape, the news is a lot different from the sort of standard election news. So there is a lot more entertainment value and people are a lot more plugged in. Whether that translates to voting or not, I’m not sure; I hope it will be a high-turnout election overall. But I think to the extent that sort of awareness, the tenor of the election translates to interest, then I think that certainly will help.”

While some may claim there are negative effects to people who are so young being involved in such critical national decisions, Mr. Prior disagrees. “I don’t think anybody voting is negative, obviously I have my own points of view, but I think that if you go vote it is a positive thing,” says Mr. Prior. “Elections ought to be about who has the best ideas, gilmore-and-student-2and people rallying around those ideas.”

Recently, a new topic has been circling about the voting age; some are calling for it to be lowered to 16. They argue that 80% of 16 year olds pay income taxes and are quite literally being taxed without representation. And while many politically minded 16 year olds are glad to not be able to vote in this particular presidential election, who is to say if that will not change in future years?