Let high schoolers vote at age 14

Letting younger Americans vote may seem strange, but it makes sense.

Christopher Meyer

Rep. Phyllis Kahn has often been criticized for her efforts to lower MinnesotaâÄôs voting age. Mike Griffin, her challenger in tonightâÄôs Democratic-Farmer-Labor caucus, calls the issue âÄúdead on arrival.âÄù But expanding the franchise to younger people is more politically viable than most people realize and itâÄôs a very worthwhile objective.

Kahn chose to work on this issue because the needs of young people are often neglected due to their lack of political clout. Her initial proposal was to lower the voting age to 12, based on the standard that U.S. public documents are supposed to be written for a sixth-grade reading level. Kahn subsequently moderated her proposal, placing the age at 16. I say the optimal voting age is in the middle, at age 14. That is when most students begin studying civics, making it an ideal time for them to begin exercising their civic duties.

When college students become eligible to vote for the first time, they are often deterred from doing so because they donâÄôt know what documents they need or which polling location to go to. If the voting age was 14, every student would be able to vote in at least one presidential election before graduating high school. Parents and teachers would be available to guide them through the process. High school teachers could insert lessons on electoral politics around election time each year and even set up buses to the polls. Such changes would hugely increase long-term turnout, because voting is habit-forming once people become familiar with the process.

The viability of these ideas grows once one recognizes that individual cities can change the law for their own city elections, so long as the state doesnâÄôt interfere. Activists in Lowell, Mass., have led a major campaign to get their city to do exactly that. If cities like Minneapolis follow suit, turnout will increase, and the issue will gain national attention.

Politicians need to be willing to challenge the status quo when they evaluate what the ideal voting age ought to be.