Gen Z are constantly finding ways to make millennials, like me, proud. Young activists in California have mobilized to pass assemblymember Evan Low’s bill, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8 or ACA 8. The amendment lowers the voting age in California to 17 years old in statewide elections. On August 26, the legislation passed the state Assembly and is now headed to the Senate for a vote.
Should the national voting age be lowered? Age requirements have been an ongoing debate for decades now. The whole point is that in Democracy, we’re supposed to be equal. (Any marginalized person knows that isn’t true in practice, but in theory, we’re all meant to be equal.) In order to vote, there is no barometer for intelligence, and now there is no gender requirement, no race requirement (allegedly, we all know about gerrymandering), and no property requirement. The only real stipulation is age.
This issue is complicated and obscured by what the collective culture believes is “old enough.” Who is really an adult and who isn’t? Let’s take a closer look.
Gen Z wants a say in their future.
Fair enough. It’s not like adults have been doing a great job running the world. We’re living in a climate emergency that, regardless of whether we act or not, is going to have massive and disastrous effects on every person on earth. We have President Trump in the states rolling back environmental regulations and President Bolsonaro in Brazil allowing the Amazon to burn. It’s no wonder young people are fed up with not having a say.
In fact, its not the first time the voting age has been questioned. Up until the Vietnam War (1964 – 1973), it was 21. The war which drafted tens of thousands of young people to their deaths, who were unable to vote for or against the war, was one of the most gruesome wars fought in U.S. history. It was young people who mobilized in protest and passed the 26th Amendment in 1971 which lowered the national voting age to 18.
Meet the people of color leading the charge.
The 17-year-old activist Tyler Okeke and Luis Sanchez, Executive Director of Power California, penned an op-ed in Teen Vogue advocating for a lower voting age. With Sanchez’s help, Okeke spearheaded a resolution that directed the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District to report on the feasibility and costs of allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in school district elections. In April, the resolution was passed.
In Berkely, California, 2016 voters approved Measure Y1 lowering the voting age to 16 in school board elections. A similar measure was narrowly defeated in San Francisco, but California is paving the way for this important national conversation. You can now even pre-register to vote online in California at 16 and 17.
Young people of color are most prepared to vote.
Lower voting age is also a matter of immigration status. Many teenagers are citizens but have parents who are ineligible to vote. A measure like this would be a huge win for immigrant families who would now have family members able to advocate for their interests.
“Today’s young people, and young people of color, in particular, are ready to use their voices and their votes to bring about positive change, according to recent research,” Okeke and Sanchez wrote. “At 16, young people can drive, pay taxes, and work for the first time without major restrictions. Many young people from working-class communities also shoulder major responsibilities, such as contributing to family incomes, taking care of their siblings, or translating important information for their parents.”
But are 16-year-olds “smart” enough to vote?
Okeke and Sanchez believe 16 is an age where teenagers are more stable and have a good enough civics and government foundation to participate.
“Research suggests that when young people vote in their first few consecutive elections, the habit sets in — ultimately strengthening our democracy. And statistical evidence has found that the average 16-year-old has the same level of civic knowledge as someone who is 21,” Okeke and Sanchez wrote.
I am sorry, but have you heard of Malala Yousafzai who wrote an op-ed at age 11 about living under the Taliban occupation and advocated for women’s education? Malala was such a threat to the status quo as a teenager that the Taliban attempted to assassinate her at 15. They failed. When she was 17 she won the Nobel Peace Prize. Have you heard of Emma González? When she was 18 years old, this Latinx survived the horrific Parkland shooting. She then co-founded the gun-control advocacy group Never Again MSD.
Teenagers have to suffer the trauma of living in a world that adults exploit and oppress, but then they don’t get a say on how to solve any of the problems they’re subjected to? I don’t think so. There are countless examples that demonstrate how intelligent, compassionate, and organized teenagers can be.