Bad idea. If anything, we should raise the voting age to 21.
The simple fact of the matter is that the brains of virtually all 16-year-olds are still forming. Their reasoning capacity and their ability to comprehend complex material will keep improving for several years. The brains of many boys continue to develop until well into their twenties.
While there are exceptions, the average 16-year-old is still as much child as adult. A 16-year-old still looks heavily to both parents and peers for approval. Those in the middle and upper classes have not had to work for a living and probably have led sheltered lives. Rich kids and poor kids alike have had a minimum of experience in the real world. Many have irrational crushes on celebrities. Others are in poor control of their emotions. We can’t expect a 16-year-old to make an informed decision about issues or candidates.
The one advantage of giving 16-year-olds the right to vote is that we could register kids in high schools, which would hopefully lead to an increase in the percentage of Americans who vote. But we could also use a mass outreach approach to register young voters at other life stations—as part of registration for college or vocational training. Or better yet, we could extend selective service registration to women (and non-binaries!) and make voter registration part of the process.
I believe that a majority of my dear readers will agree with me that 16 is too young to vote. But my second assertion—that we should raise the voting age to 21—will likely meet with two thumbs down from most. If, however, you put credence in medical science, you should see little difference between voting at 16 and 18. The human mind is still developing at age 18. Although 18 year olds are for the most part much more mature than 16 year olds, they don’t have their acts together as much as they will at age 21. Far from it. Every parent will readily be able to cite examples.
The reason that we allow people to vote at 18 is business. The business of war, which since World War II may be the biggest and most important business that Americans pursue. After all, we have been at constant warfare somewhere around the globe almost continually over the past 70 years. Our annual military budget is about equal to that of all the other countries on Earth combined. We are the primary arms merchant throughout the world; our bombs and guns participate in virtually all of the almost 40 current armed conflicts worldwide.
We gave the vote to 18-year-olds in 1971 in the middle of the Viet Nam War after many Americans—young and old— rightfully pointed out that anyone old enough to die for his or her country should be old enough to vote. At the time I was overjoyed, because I had turned 18 about three months before the 1968 election and was frustrated that I did not have a chance to write in for Eugene McCarthy.
It was about the time that I realized that my hypothetical vote in 1968 should have gone to Hubert Humphrey that I also figured out that in bringing fairness to army enrollments, the United States should have moved the age of combat up and not the voting age down.
The cynical would argue that many young people need the discipline and structure that life in the armed forces provides. Especially for those who go don’t go to college and for the poor, rather than be set adrift in an uncaring economy, 18- and 19-year-olds can “grow up” in the army. This argument supposes that crime and social unrest would increase if we didn’t let young adults, and especially young men with proclivities towards violence, join the army. Once you establish the indispensable social and socialization role of the army for 18-21-year-olds, you have to allow 18-year-olds to vote. Once again, if they’re putting their lives on the line, you have to let them have a say.
But then there’s the ultra-cynical view, the one to which I subscribe. Without the pool of 18-21-year-olds, the armed forces could not fill its ranks. The army grabs kids at the very age when most are still adrift, still sorting out their path in life. They don’t own houses yet, haven’t started families, haven’t had their first full-time job. They have the fewest community ties and the least to lose by serving for a few years in the armed forces. Our armed forces recruitment centers grab them when they are most vulnerable to nonsense about pride and belonging. Primed for the plucking. Just enroll ‘em, train ‘em and send ‘em to a war zone.
Like every military since the rise of organized armies millennia ago, the Armed Forces of the United States of America depends on the 18-21 age group to provide cannon fodder for our military death machine. If raising the voting age to 21 makes us raise the minimum age to join the armed forces to 21, it might cripple out ability to wage wars.
And that would be a very good thing.