As soon as I turned 16, I pre-registered to vote. As someone who’s been a political junkie my whole life, knowing I still had to wait two more years while our country was in the midst of a killer election cycle was tortuous, so I took whatever steps I could to feel like I was speeding the process along. Now I’m 18, and I’m thrilled to finally be able to vote.
But having to wait this long really bothered me. During that election cycle, which took place mostly during my sophomore and junior years, I witnessed and took part in a great deal of intelligent and respectful conversations and debates around what was happening to our country. To be honest, I’d say that the conversations I overheard in the halls of LHS or in my group chats were more civil than those that I heard from adults or saw in the debates on television. We were itching to have our voices heard, and to have a say in this election that we knew would greatly affect us and our lives for decades to come.
Recently, a Washington, D.C. city councilman proposed giving 16 year olds the right to vote in both local and federal elections. It was proposed in 2015, but never made it past committee. There are already several communities across the country that allow 16 year olds to vote in local elections, the first of which was Tacoma Park, Maryland, who extended voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds for local elections in 2013. Countries worldwide (including Austria, Brazil, Cuba, and Scotland) also allow people of this age to vote.
The main argument against teenagers of this age being able to vote is that they’re apathetic, that they don’t care about what’s going on in the world around them enough to make informed decisions in the voting booth free of influence from their parents and other authority figures. But people can be influenced by their parents or anybody else at any age. And we do care about the world around us, contrary to popular belief. Yes, some care more than others, but the same thing is seen adults. To argue that 16 year olds shouldn’t be able to vote just because some don’t care and wouldn’t be making their decisions based on concrete facts is to say that, basically, nobody should vote. In this sense, adults and teenagers aren’t that different, because you can find plenty of adults that don’t care much about their world and vote anyways.
But, somehow, I don’t think that my generation is as apathetic as we’re sometimes made out to be. Look at the students from Parkland, Florida. In the last three months they’ve turned their pain into progress and are leading a nation-wide movement for gun control reform. Regardless of whether you or disagree with their stance, you’ve got to admit that their strength, determination, and tenacity is a force to be reckoned with.
Youth are the future, we’re told, you’re a generation of change. But we aren’t even allowed to have a say in this change until we’re eighteen, and (legally) adults. We can drive cars at sixteen but can’t check a box in a voting booth. We can pay taxes as soon as we make enough money per year but we have no say in how those dollars are spent. Things appear on the ballot about school renovations and student loans and countless other issues that directly affect our lives but we don’t get a say in what happens.
This may seem unfair. But it’s unlikely that this is going to change anytime soon, and if it ever does, we’ll likely have already been eligible to vote for years. In the meantime, however, there are still other ways that we can fight for the changes we believe in. Social media is a great tool—we can call it like we see it and get others to see it, too. We can contact our government representatives and tell them how we feel. We can study what’s going on around us and keep up to date on current events, using sources from all across the political spectrum, so that when we finally can vote, we have further confirmed our own opinions.
And, we can register to vote now. As soon as you’re 16 you can pre-register to vote, which has you fill out the same form as a regular voter registration and gets you into the system to ensure that you’re all ready to go once your 18. We need to make sure that our voices are heard, even if right now, we have to speak from outside of the voting booth. We are the future that is rapidly approaching. Let’s get ready for it.