Lowering the Voting Age

FairVote supports expanding suffrage to 16 and 17-year-olds in municipal elections. The proposal to extend voting rights to people after they turn 16 may surprise some, but the latest research is a revelation. All evidence suggests that cities will increase turnout by allowing citizens to cast their first vote after turning 16. The reason is simple. Many people at 16 and 17 have lived in their communities for years and are taking government classes in high school. That combination results in more people exercising their first chance to vote if they are 16 or 17 than if they are unable to vote until they have left home and school.

A voting age of 18 means that many people won't get a chance to vote in city elections until they are nearly 20. A detailed study of voting age and voters in Denmark found that 18-year-olds were far more likely to cast their "first vote" than 19-year-olds, and that every month of extra age in those years resulted in a decline in "first vote" turnout. Allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections will enable them to vote before leaving home and high school, and establish a life-long habit of voting.

Lowering the voting age to 16 is becoming an international movement. A growing number of nations like Austria, Argentina, Germany and the United Kingdom that have extended voting rights to people at 16 for national, regional or local elections. Evidence from Austria confirms that extending voting rights to people after they turn 16 promotes higher turnout for first-time voters and over time. Austria's experience also shows that 16- and 17-year-olds are ready for voting as far as making choices that accurately reflect their views.

Long-time backers of a lower voting age, like the National Youth Rights Association, make a fairness argument as well. Turning 16 has special significance in our culture. At age 16, we can drive, pay taxes and for the first time work without any restriction on hours. Many states already allow citizens under 18 to vote in Democratic and Republican primaries for president, Congress and governor.

Ongoing Initiatives

United Teen Equality Center (UTEC): 17-year-olds in Lowell (MA) have come together to push for municipal voting rights. They have gained the support of their local government, newspaper and several other organizations. In Massachusetts, changes in municipal law must be approved by the state legislature. UTEC's Vote17 has worked with state representatives to introduce and push the new legislation. It has gained initial approval and Vote 17 hopes to have the new rule in effect by the November, 2013 election.

Implemented Reforms

In May of 2013, FairVote's hometown of Takoma Park became the first city in the country to extend suffrage to 16- and 17-year-old voters in municipal elections. the motion garnered widespread support from the community and was passed with an almost unanimous vote in the City Council. 

Nearly half of all U.S. states have changed policies or enacted legislation that will allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, if they will be 18 at the time of the corresponding general election.

Studies and Research

See our blog - A Historic Expansion of Suffage: 16- and 17-Year-Olds Vote in City Election 

The Commission on Youth Voting and Civic Knowledge released a report recommending youth voting

In Austria, lowering the voting age to 16 increased short and long-term voting turnout.

In Denmark, young voters voted more when they could vote sooner.

16- and 17-year-olds can be responsible and educated voters - sometimes more so than older adults.

Full employment, driving, taxation and other rites of adulthood begin at 16.

Learn more on 17-year-old primary voting


Get Involved with Promote Our Vote

Interested in expanding voting rights in your hometown?

Check out FairVote's Promote Our Vote project!

Grounded in our belief that voting is a fundamental right in a democracy, the Promote Our Vote project has four goals: increasing voter participation in cities, protecting voter access in all elections, generating conversations about ways to expand suffrage and building support for a constitutional right to vote. Acting as a catalyst and clearinghouse on suffrage policies and practices, Promote Our Vote provides legal analysis, electoral research and communications assistance to individuals and organizations as they advance local and campus resolutions in support of a constitutional right to vote and concrete measures designed to meet our objectives.