I Vote Yes on a Lower Voting Age

When I was sixteen years old I crashed my mom’s car about one week after getting my license. I remember that day vividly: I was listening to the song “Panda” by Desiigner playing quietly out of my iPhone because I couldn’t figure out Bluetooth, chatting aimlessly with my friend (who was totally, illegally in the car, by the way) and taking a left turn when I obviously didn’t have the right of way. Predictably, I was T-boned by a woman driving an SUV only a few blocks away from my house. Seconds after evaluating the situation––the car was messed up but seemed to be fixable, the driver was annoyed but uninjured, my friend’s shocked face was unscratched––I said the most sixteen-year-old thing I could possibly say: “RUN!” My friend took off running back to my house, and though I saved my own ass that day (and luckily didn’t hurt anyone in the process), it was easily the most irresponsible thing I’d ever done in my life.

 

I can laugh (and cringe, a little) at this moment now, but it definitely is cause for some reflection on my high school self. Lacking awareness and rational decision making, sixteen year old Emi still had a lot of growing up to do. So the first time I heard somebody suggest that we should lower the voting age from 18 to 16, I was highly skeptical. Even when an actual politician, Nancy Pelosi, expressed interest in the idea, all I could see was every bad decision I made at that age. I remembered me in all my sixteen-year-old glory––black-banded braces, eyebrows penciled so darkly it looked like I took a sharpie to them, a steady rotation of leggings and poorly fitting jeans––I wasn’t exactly the picture of a responsible, educated voter. The car crash was a day in the life, a slightly elevated version of my normal hijinks.

 

But as I thought about it more, I remember who else I was at sixteen. In November of my junior year, what felt like the most polarizing election in recent history took place. Smack in the middle of AP English tests, swim practices, and social dramas, students like me found themselves plopped in the middle of what seemed like history in the making. While adults spent days in total shock at what had happened, my friends and I mobilized––planning a city-wide rally on Inauguration Day. I spent countless hours holed up with my friends developing a plan to obtain a permit, recruit speakers and market our peaceful demonstrations to our peers. Yes, I was the kid who made dumb decisions, but I was also the kid who made things happen.

 

By now you’ve figured out that I was not some child prodigy, I was a regular, car-crashing sixteen-year-old. High school kids just like me (regardless of day-to-day “maturity”) were stepping up to the plate in ways that the older generations couldn’t even fathom.

 

In February of last year, an entire community was changed forever by a tragic mass shooting that left 17 (mostly students) dead in Parkland, Florida. While this was, without a doubt, traumatizing beyond imagination for the surviving students, a group of resilient, empathetic, and entirely fed up high school students founded the March For Our Lives movement that would inspire 800 different protests across the country. In the wake of a tragedy, high school students (many who couldn’t even vote legally) fought the uphill battle of gun reform that our country has been wrestling with since our foundation.

 

Sixteen-year-olds are more than their developing brains. Just like the rest of us, they experience the terrors and triumphs of the communities around them. They can recognize injustice and fight for their right to be treated with respect and dignity. When adults are silent, it’s the kids who are willing to stand up for what they believe in. But it’s more, still, than the ones who can be spotted in the center of a movement. High school kids are at the center of so much policy they have little-to-no say in.

 

Throughout my time in high school, the entire state legislative body was thrown into chaos following a lawsuit known as the McCleary Decision that demanded additional funding for public schools. With more and more pressure to “fully fund education” the state rushed to find closure on an issue that seemed impossible to fix. Though the end decision largely equalized the divide between wealthier and poorer districts, it created a whole new set of issues. In my district, for instance, the school district was set to lose as much as 4.5 million dollars. At my high school, this meant programs the students enjoyed and deeply needed were in jeopardy. Even though these decisions would intimately impact the lives of students, they were completely omitted from this conversation. Without the power of voting, the only way people under the age of eighteen would have their voices heard was through political action such as lobbying and protesting.

 

School is not only at the center of many students’ lives, but it also takes the stage in the political sphere. Whether it’s funding, core curriculum, the school-to-prison pipeline, or the ever-growing epidemic of school shootings, students are unwillingly dependent on government officials they didn’t even have the chance to vote for or against. When we view this issue with less judgment and more compassion for younger versions of ourselves, we realize that giving sixteen-year-olds the right to vote isn’t letting immature idiots dictate our elections, it’s giving those at the center of so much political discourse a chance to speak for themselves.