Sobremesa: Why the youth vote matters

When an adolescent turns 18 in the United States, they are granted the ability to serve on a jury, open a bank account and, most notably, to vote. Historically, this wasn’t always the case. On July 5, 1971, the voter age in the United States was officially lowered from 21 to 18 after teenagers were outraged that they could be sent to fight in the Vietnam War but had no say in determining their political leaders. These threads of American advocacy toward voting rights are present throughout American history, from the fight for the 15th amendment to the women’s suffrage movement.

Thanks to advocates like John Lewis and Sojourner Truth, millions more Americans can vote today than ever before. After seeing a record voter turnout in the 2020 election despite the pandemic, it is evident that our nation as a whole has come to embody what is at the core of political efficacy: the idea that every vote counts.

Following this victory, it would be easy to just ride the wave of high voter turnout and bask in the glory of upcoming change in the White House. It would be easy for all citizens to feel as if we have arrived at success. 

But in the words of the late John Lewis, an esteemed statesman and civil rights leader, “Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.” As Americans, we must take John Lewis’s words to heart. We must continue on the never-ceasing, transformative journey toward the betterment of this nation.

Just as the United States has transformed the spectrum of eligible voters many times in the past, Americans today revisit the question of who should be given the right to vote in order to restore political efficacy. Some influential political figures, including Andrew Yang, have shown public support for lowering the voting age to 16 to increase civic engagement and voter turnout. 

Studies show that 16-year-olds possess the cognitive capacity necessary to cast a well-informed ballot. From large-scale actions like the March For Our Lives to smaller scale actions like phone banking, young people are stepping up to the political plate to do their part. According to Tufts’ Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, youth voter turnout has increased in recent years and youth played an integral role in determining the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. 

Those opposed to lowering the voting age dismiss young people as uninformed, rash decision makers. In response to skeptics, we must ask ourselves: “are modern youth really too fallible to cast their ballot?” If youth are informed enough to pay taxes, volunteer and advocate on a national scale, they should be given the power to make the ever-important political decisions that influence the future of our nation.