At first glance, many assume that 16-year-olds are unable to make mature and informed decisions about voting, that they will not turn out to vote, or that they will just vote the way their parents tell them to. However, research indicates that all three of those assumptions are untrue and are not a reason to keep local governments from extending voting rights to 16-year-olds.
Reasons to lower the voting age include the following:
Extending voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds is consistent with the fact that turning 16 has special significance in our culture. At age 16, citizens can drive, pay taxes, and for the first time work without any restriction on hours. It’s also a matter of fairness: when unable to vote until turning 18, some citizens won’t have a chance to vote for their mayor until they are almost 22. Long-time backers of a lower voting age, like the National Youth Rights Association, make this fairness argument as well.
This change has worked in practice. Two Maryland cities have successfully extended municipal voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds. Several nations, including Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, and the United Kingdom have extended voting rights to 16-year-olds for national, regional, or local elections. Additionally, more than 15 states already allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries to nominate candidates for president, Congress, and governor.
Research indicates that there is a “trickle up” effect on civic participation. When 16- and 17-year-olds engage in civics, conversations about politics and local issues are brought to the dinner table. Parents and family members are engaged in civic life through the 16- and 17-year-olds in their household, with a positive impact on voter turnout for people of all ages.
A detailed study of voters' ages and habits 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 lifelong habit of voting. 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 to contribute sound decision making and quality participation in democracy.