June 24, 2009

NCVS Blog - Wednesday 10AM


I'm marinating in all the ideas, conversations, and thoughts flowing around here at NCVS - and I want to take a moment to share one with you that emerged yesterday.

I attended a workshop focusing on encouraging youth to engage in service learning and other leadership opportunities. There was an awesome panel of rockstars who admitted that they were rockstars largely because they were offered leadership roles and service opportunities at a young age. It reminded me of my time with Ann and Laura of Youth Resources - young people who could outshine myself and many of my peers any day of the week.

After hearing from the youth, and going over a little process, the attendees of the session had a chance to respond through small group discussions and report-outs. As a part of the Policy Small Group, we dreamed of ways to empower the voice of youth across the nation and provide opportunities young people to have their voices heard.

We lamented the fact that most people start working (and paying taxes) well before they are 18, yet they have no voice in how their tax dollars are spent. We discussed the injustice of being tried as an adult, but not being able to sit on a jury. All over the board, young people are affected by laws, rules, and taxes that they have no voice in changing or supporting.

So, we are proposing something crazy. Except that it makes so much sense.

We are advocating for lowering the voting age to 14

I would love to hear your thoughts, there's a long road ahead to make this happen and we need your help to make our case the strongest possible. Looking forward to instilling civic behavior at an earlier point in an adult's development!

"Republicans are accused of abandoning the poor. It's the other way around - they never vote for us."
Dan Quayle


Elizabeth said...

I like the idea, Sam. Could you explain more about why you advocate voting at 14 instead of another age?

Brandon K. Baker said...

yesh. that idea makes me cringe.

Mostly because I know how uninformed I was as a fourteen year old kid. If I had voted at fourteen, I would have essentially xeroxed my parents ballot. In fact, you can almost say the same for my ballot at 18.

I'm not saying there aren't 14 year olds that are informed or that there aren't any who wont vote differently then their parents. But, most fourteen year olds are more concerned with their American Idol vote than their Presidential one. I'm sure some will wonder what number they need to text to vote for Obama or (insert generic republican here).

What do we do when a parent threatens to punish their child for voting a certain way? or when a kid votes a certain way just to get under their parents' skin?

I'd rather see us drop taxes on people younger than eighteen, stop trying kids as adults, etc. than give them a vote.

I'm not saying that there aren't 18+ year olds who use their vote irresponsibly, but it seems that the odds are significantly decreased. Do you really believe that a fourteen year old is cognitively developed enough to vote on a national or even statewide scale?

What will you do when they vote "Fred" in as Senator?

I like the idea of giving teens incentive to engage civically. But is giving them a vote the best way?

We need to teach teens that government and voting isn't the only way to solve problems. Let's get fourteen year olds involved in apolitical civil initiative before we train them that all of society's woes are solved in Washington, D.C.

Samuel Isaac Richard said...


There are a few solid ideas behind why 14 makes sense - but the age is definitely up for debate, so I would love to hear your push back and/or support...

First, in many states you can start working at the age of 14. More than anything, this is an issue of taxation without representation, so I think it makes sense that young people should be offered the right to vote when they are taxed by the government.

Second, it's important to encourage behaviors at a young age. The drunk driving rate in Europe is much lower than here in the US largely because young people learn how to drink responsibly before they learn how to drive. By instilling civic participation at a young age (and the year after "Civics" is taught in many public school systems), there is a better chance that it will become second nature. As it stands, US citizens can be as old as 21 before they vote in their first presidential election - no wonder the 18-24 demo doesn't vote...

Third, the law in many states treats people as young as 14 as adults. The Constitution requires the accused to be tried by a jury of peers, and that's a lot harder to do when the closest person in age to you is four years your senior. This point is the weakest currently, because it's a hunch - I don't have much hard data to support the claim yet.

So anyway, those are the reasons we discussed for advocating for the voting age to be lowered to 14. Would love to hear your thoughts!

Samuel Isaac Richard said...


This is an issue that came up, and we feel that we have a pretty good answer:

For every uninformed 14 year-old, I'll show you 20 people over the age of 30 that vote the way they do because Rush tells them to, or Keith Olberman tells them to.

In addition, the suggestion of dropping taxes and trials as adults, etc. misses the point. By lowering the voting age, we're empowering young people to speak up and develop their own ideas about the complex issues surrounding citizenship. Taking steps to prolong childhood only patronizes young people. In my humble opinion, of course.

One final thought - if all you did was mirror who your parents voted for, it wouldn't matter if we lowered the voting age to 8, right? The numbers would just be on a larger scale.

Anyway, thanks for the push back - looking forward to hearing more from you...

Ann Burnworth said...

Sam, you rock! O.K., I think my asking youth for their thoughts about lowering the voting age was spurned by something you've said before - but I recently posed that very question to them! And - as usual - they totally surprised me by their almost unanimous response!

The youth said that they would NOT vote to lower the voting age!!(?) They said that students under 18 are generally too influenced by their parents since they don't have too many life events that would fire them up on political issues with a seperate political identity than their parents. They said they felt that students bogged down in The System or who had experienced life issues affected by political change may be too apathetic to vote. What shocked me was that these responses came from the most interesting, brigh, diverse people I know - AND they're young!

You should come talk to them sometime! Hope you're doing well! THANK YOU of for continuing to fight the good fight...

Ann Burnworth
Youth Resources of Southwestern Indiana - Evansville

Anonymous said...

I agree with Brandon Baker. Not only would you have even more uninformed voters, you would have those votes for "the hottest candidate."

Joe said...

I agree with all of the problems this post pointed out. However, I disagree with lowering the voting age.

Let me be the first to say that at the age of fourteen I was in no way an adult. Having the voting age at 18 makes sense because everyone has had the opportunity to get a basic education. By the age of 14 I had not yet even take a high school level course in American History or Government. By the age of 14 I had not experienced any formal education on sex, drugs, or many other key issues that an informed voter should have a basic understanding of. I understand that just because I person turns 18 they aren't necessarily an informed citizen, but at they have been given the tools (public education) to make thoughtful decisions. Regardless of whether or not they took advantage of them. Waiting to give someone the right to vote until they are 18 isn't prolonging their childhood, it is giving them 18 years and the chance to educate themselves before they are expected to choose sides on incredibly important decisions that influence us all.

I think most everyone would agree that it is a problem that minors are taxed, tried as adults, and are generally misrepresented in a number of ways. However, I agree with Brandan, these problems are not solved by lowering the voting age.

Jess said...

Mr. Baker, very nice response.

Sam, very good points but...Do you know that the frontal lobe of the brain (which controls our ability to initiate, problem-solve, form logical arguments, make judgement calls, and control emotional and behavioral impulses) is not fully developed until age 18-20? When I take that *scientific fact* into consideration, the idea of 14 year olds voting really frightens me. Perhaps we should not match the voting age to the working age. Perhaps we should match the working age to the voting age. Who ever thought 14 year olds should be working anyway?? I say kids are growing up too fast these days. Why should we force political fervor onto them? Let the kids be kids and the grown-ups be grown-ups. I do like BKB's idea. I think there should be something in between, like teaching adolescents about social responsibility through modeling. I personally never volunteered as a youth unless I knew that it was somehow for my benefit. X amount of community service hours got me this badge or that grade, which therefore looked nice on my college applications. But suppose there is a middle ground? Something in between teenage apathy/xeroxing parents ballots/American President Idol and 14 year old voters? Suppose there were one staff at every high school whose sole (soul?) responsibility was to expose students to social responsibility. They promote weekly service events and various ways to be involved, teach on current social and political issues via fliers and classroom presentations, get students thinking about the community they live in and get them wanting to be a part of it.

Jess said...

Oh also, that person should be especially cool, attractive, and enthusiastic. You know teenagers - they're shameless.

one more credit... said...

I'm 17, and I say no. Just because a lot of us are "good kids" at that age doesn't mean we're ready to vote. While I do think there's a large group of 14-17 year olds who are perfectly capable of casting a analyzed, legitimate ballot, there are far too many delinquents and troublemakers who would simply make the voting system a joke if they were given the legal right to participate in it at such a vulnerable and dangerous age. We have fourteen year olds who struggle to read and write, no less help dictate the future of the free world. So unless we bring back the literacy tests at the poll station (heaven forbid the NAACP catch on), I say keep the voting age where it is, and work on the education system first.

That said, I wish I had voting rights at fourteen as much as the next guy.

Anonymous said...

Maybe interested 14 year olds should have the opportunity to *apply* for their voting rights. If there is some kind of preliminary effort involved, I bet it would cut out any of those who would take their voting responsibility lightly.

oneknightstands said...

I would be okay with 14, but I really think there should be a test to be able to vote. Bare minimum know some basic US history, or policy stances and voting history of the people we vote for. There are a lot of 14 year olds who know this stuff, and there are plenty of 50 year olds who don't.

John Spencer said...

I would advocate sixteen. It's the age when many kids begin to work. It's also an age when some people are already raising a family. When I think of my students at fourteen, they would vote independently and many of them would put more of an effort into researching issues than the average adult.

However, being fourteen they are still kids and a part of me wants to protect the social institution of childhood. We keep creating systems, structures and philosophies that blur the line between adults and children and there is a very real sense that we are seeing a dissapearance of childhood.

But I'd also change the age of being tried as an adult from fourteen to sixteen. It should also be the age when someone can begin drinking.

Have you looked at the countries that have a low voter age (14 for example)? Most of them are corrupt, totalitarian regimes.