Hermiston teens aren’t sure they’re ready to vote yet — but the students in one social studies class thoughtfully debated the pros and cons of lowering the voting age to 16, something that could become a reality in the next couple of years.
A group of Oregon legislators have introduced a bill to amend the state constitution, and lower the voting age from 18 to 16. The bill is expected to go before voters in 2020. Oregon 16 year-olds can already pre-register to vote, so that they will receive a ballot for elections after they turn 18.
In Aaron Davis’ senior social studies class at Hermiston High School, the majority of the students said they didn’t think lowering the voting age was a good idea, but had varying reasons.
Harrison Temple said there were likely students during the 2016 election who had enough awareness to make an informed choice.
“But in other circumstances, there are people who don’t pay attention,” he said. “It’s just another vote for their parents.”
“I believe at 16, we’re not well-informed of our views,” said Lucia Wiley. “We rely on social media. It’s not reliable, and we’re impressionable. I believe we wouldn’t be voting for what we believe, but what our friends, or parents believe.”
Several other students echoed the idea that 16-year-olds wouldn’t take the time to get informed, but simply go with what those around them thought.
Alexis Perez said he felt turnout for the youngest group of voters was already low.
“Sixteen-year-olds probably don’t have the knowledge or base understanding,” he said. “There’ll probably be even less voter turnout.”
Sam Smelser said he likes that the voting age is 18, because it means most students have completed high school, and will hopefully have some more understanding of government.
“By that time, they’re already most of the way through civics class,” he said. “At 16, most of them haven’t had that.”
Taylor Greene said she was opposed to lowering the voting age, but said that maybe the solution was to teach those courses to underclassmen.
“Then maybe we wouldn’t be so hesitant,” she said.
Jessica Ferguson said she was in favor of the change.
“At 16, I’d have appreciated the right to vote,” she said. “It was an election year, and considering the results of that election will probably affect my first experience into adulthood, I wish I could have voted.”
Although most of Davis’ students felt 16-year-olds weren’t ready to vote, almost everyone said they planned to exercise their right to vote once they turn 18. And many acknowledged that those who are of legal age may not necessarily be informed, either.
“I think a lot of adults get information from social media as well,” Ferguson said. “That was really prevalent in the 2016 election. Picking credible news sources is probably harder for 16-year-olds, but it affects adults too, who are also influenced by social media.”
“I’d say if being well-informed is the criteria for being able to vote, there are a lot of adults who aren’t,” he said.
Davis didn’t share his personal opinion with students, but said they had all brought up well-informed points.
“More voters isn’t necessarily better,” he said. “But 16- and 66-year-olds can chose who to follow, whether to isolate themselves, or what they want to hear.”
According to an article by the Oregonian/OregonLive, the bill would give 16-year-olds the right to vote in all elections, but may ultimately only apply to state and local elections. The article reported that Democratic state Sen. Shemia Fagan, who introduced the measure, said that teens were begging to be able to take action to protect their own futures. She referenced the students from Parkland, Florida, who gained national attention for their activism for gun control after a mass shooting at their school in 2018.
The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1971, as per the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That was partly due to teens opposed to being drafted for the Vietnam War.