Is the minimum legal voting age of 18 years old fair and appropriate, in your opinion, or should it be lowered?
In your view, at what age should people be able to vote in the United States? Why?
In “Why We Should Lower the Voting Age to 16,” Laurence Steinberg writes:
The young people who have come forward to call for gun control in the wake of the mass shooting at their high school in Parkland, Fla., are challenging the tiresome stereotype of American kids as indolent narcissists whose brains have been addled by smartphones. They offer an inspiring example of thoughtful, eloquent protest.
Unfortunately, when it comes to electing lawmakers whose decisions about gun control and other issues affect their lives, these high schoolers lack any real power. This needs to change: The federal voting age in the United States should be lowered from 18 to 16.
Skeptics will no doubt raise questions about the competence of 16-year-olds to make informed choices in the voting booth. Aren’t young people notoriously impulsive and hotheaded, their brains not fully developed enough to make good judgments?
Yes and no. When considering the intellectual capacity of teenagers, it is important to distinguish between what psychologists call “cold” and “hot” cognition.
Cold cognitive abilities are those we use when we are in a calm situation, when we are by ourselves and have time to deliberate and when the most important skill is the ability to reason logically with facts. Voting is a good example of this sort of situation.
Studies of cold cognition have shown that the skills necessary to make informed decisions are firmly in place by 16. By that age, adolescents can gather and process information, weigh pros and cons, reason logically with facts and take time before making a decision. Teenagers may sometimes make bad choices, but statistically speaking, they do not make them any more often than adults do.
Students: Read the entire article, then tell us:
— At the end of the article, Professor Steinberg writes:
The last time the United States lowered the federal voting age was in 1971, when it went from 21 to 18. In that instance, the main motivating force was outrage over the fact that 18-year-olds could be sent to fight in Vietnam but could not vote.
Do you agree with the writer’s proposal to lower the voting age to 16 so that those most vulnerable to school shootings have a say in how those shootings are best prevented? Why or why not?
— Do you agree that the brain science discussed in the article supports the argument for lowering the legal voting age in the United States? If so, how and why?
— What other reasons might you have for lowering the voting age, or for keeping the status quo, and why?
— If the voting age were lowered, would you vote? Why or why not?
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Background and context
The right to vote is one of the most important human rights. It gives men and women the chance to have a say in the way they are governed. It allows them to get rid of bad governments and makes sure that any government listens to its people, for fear of being thrown out at the next election. It is one of the most important ways in which other rights (e.g. free speech, the right to a fair trial) are protected. Not every country in the world is a democracy, with free elections giving citizens a fair political choice. But the right to vote is spreading and outright dictatorships are increasingly few on every continent. Yet what should that right to vote mean? A century or so ago almost no countries allowed women to vote, and it took decades of struggle for them to win political rights. Fifty years ago countries such as South Africa and many states in the USA limited the rights of black people to vote, but that too has changed for the better. Now every democracy accepts that all adult citizens should have the right to vote. But what does adult mean? In almost every country adult is taken for voting purposes to mean 18. 142 countries have 18 as their voting age. Some others (such as Taiwan and Japan) do not give their young people the right to vote until they are 21. But in several countries the voting age is younger - in Korea, Sudan and Indonesia it is 17, in Brazil, Cuba and Nicaragua it is 16, and in Iran it is as low as 15. And in a number of well-known democracies such as the UK, USA and Australia there are growing movements to lower the voting age to 16. This topic looks at the case for lowering the voting age to 16, but the arguments below could be used for a debate about a different voting age (perhaps 14?). Another issue to consider is whether the same age should be used for all kinds of voting (e.g. local elections, state elections, national elections, referenda). And should young people gain the right to stand for election at the same age they get the right to vote? In many countries, such as the UK and United States, you can vote at 18 but can’t stand for elected office until you are 21.