Right to Fight, Right to Vote

On May 7, 2012, the day of my 16th birthday, I will be legally allowed to drive in most states and get married (with parental consent). At that point I will be eligible to be fully employed and pay income tax. On May 7, 2013, I will become eligible to serve in the Army. Yet, I will not be able to vote in any election in the United States until May 7, 2014, the day of my 18th birthday. This travesty can no longer be overlooked by the American public.

Set at 18, the current voting age is egregiously high and should be lowered to 16. It should be set at the age at which the government has a measurable impact on the lives of its people. A five-year old, for example, cannot claim to be influenced by politicians’ decisions nearly as much as a 16 or 17-year-old. 16 is the age at which the government begins loading responsibilities on to its youth. Those who are eligible to work and serve in the military should be able to vote. Anything else is an unacceptable double standard that puts young Americans at the mercy of federal and state governments which control wars, employment and highways while denying young people their fair share of influence over those institutions. Moreover, educating youths about the electoral process and allowing their voices to be heard will secure America’s prosperity.

The double standard between the military age (17) and the voting age (18) is most disappointing. Military service is both honorable and valorous, and our volunteers deserve the highest praise. Yet when young people feel isolated and helpless, their only option should not be escaping by soldiering.

Rather, the government’s responsibility is to empower its youth by giving them a ballot, not a bazooka.

This hypothetical illustrates the absurdity of the high age of something that is less risky than combat- voting. Of the innumerable problems with such a high voting age, one is that it sets a double standard.

The benefits of decreasing the voting age will surely trump its negative effects. First, lowering the voting age would allow teenagers to become more politically engaged. Unfortunately, many people eligible to vote choose not to out of disdain and distress of the political system. What better way to counteract such apathy than to start voting early? By teaching 16 and 17-year-olds about the responsibilities and privileges that come with voting, a more politically-driven society will be attained. On the Andover campus, many student activism organizations, such as STAND, work by this approach: empowerment through action. A genocide-prevention organization, STAND lobbies Congressmen by writing letters and visiting their offices. Phillips Academy is filled with students who seek to change the world, and they represent the broad spectrum of highly motivated students across this nation. Andover is a living example of youthful dynamism and innovation, and an example of many brilliant voices not heard at the poll.

Student empowerment is integral to the preservation of our democracy. Think of the biggest changes that have taken place in American history, most notably the Civil Rights Movement. Led by adults, but executed by teenagers, the movement altered the course of our history. Moreover, it amplified a voice once unheard: the voice of the youth. In addition, encouraging young people to vote will secure this nation’s future security and stability. Voting will become “cool,” just like owning a car or getting paid. American youth will become more interested in government and politics, which will create generations of better leaders and citizens.

Many argue that 16 and 17-year-olds are not mature enough to vote. Some argue that they do not understand the process. Others suggest that teenagers would not take voting seriously. To combat these legitimate concerns, why not integrate voting and American government into high school curriculums? Call it “Voters-Ed.” Before registering to vote, students would take a class about the process and responsibility of voting, the branches of government and gain a better sense of the political process. This approach would make them better, more informed citizens. Moreover, it could instill a sense of maturity in these youths which would likely prevent them from making silly decisions.

When 16-year-olds take jobs-full-time and part-time jobs, just like their parents; they are thrust into the world of income tax. Regardless of age, all Americans are expected to pay taxes on any income earned over a certain threshold. At this point, the government has a tangible influence on the lives of its youth; it affects the availability of jobs and sets the income tax brackets.

Though we help fill the nation’s coffers, we do not get to decide who controls them. Perhaps if we decide not to lower the voting age, we could create age thresholds for taxation based on age, meaning that even if a 17-year old makes one million dollars, they would not have to pay taxes on it. Or, we could take the less drastic approach and simply lower the voting age. It would be unfair and imprudent to raise the age of consent and the age of voluntary conscription, but it would even the playing field if the voting age were lowered.

Most importantly, stringent age limits on voting choke national dialogue. They discourage disenfranchised youth from engaging with their government. Democracy is a two-way street: ‘we pay into the system so we decide who runs the system’. It is undemocratic, then, for 16 and 17-year-olds to be excluded from voting. Moreover, the government’s hypocrisy is overwhelming, as it allows 16 and 17-year-olds to pursue riskier activities like combat. Nonetheless, we, the American youth, must unite to take what is rightfully ours. We must fight and protest until we win our right to vote.

Junius Williams is a two-year Lower from Newark, NJ.