Representative supports lowering voting age to 16

by Megan Boldt

Right now, the state allows 14-year-olds to operate firearms and 16-year-olds to drive on public roads. According to one representative, the latter should be allowed to vote, too.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, and supporters, including area students, testified in front of the House Government Operations Committee on Monday morning to convince other legislators to lower the legal voting age to 16.
No action will be taken by the Legislature this session, but Kahn said the purpose of the meeting was to raise awareness by presenting information.
“People need to make this an issue,” Kahn said. By giving legislators the heads-up now, Kahn said, the bill can be more successful during the next legislative session when it will likely be voted on.
Kahn was in office when the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 during the Vietnam War. To garner support for the new age requirement, Kahn said supporters need to have the same passion people did then.
Area students joined Kahn at the Capitol to plead their case. Students from South High School in Minneapolis; the Humphrey Voices Class, sponsored by the University of Minnesota; and representatives from the Mayors’ Youth Council of Minneapolis were included.
Miranda Dywer, a 16-year-old sophomore at St. Cloud State University, testified in front of the House committee that it was necessary to lower the voting age to give children equal opportunity.
“They give us the privilege to drive but not to vote,” Dywer said.
Most teenagers cannot vote on how their taxes are used and how their education is handled, she added.
“We need to give children a voice,” Dywer said.
Some legislators agree, but others are skeptical.
Rep. Bruce Anderson, R-Buffalo Twp., said he is always open-minded on issues, but he needs more information before supporting the voting-age change.
“The discussion so far has been too narrow-based,” Anderson said.
There has not been much negative talk about the issue yet, and Anderson said he wants to hear both sides.
He also said teenagers and parents need to voice their opinions on the topic so legislators know what the public is thinking.
Changing the voting age has been one of Kahn’s priorities for more than a decade. She started her fight in 1989, when she proposed bringing the voting age down to 12.
Later, in 1991, Kahn changed the age to 16, thinking it was a good argument to align the voting and driving ages, she said.
And she’s in for the long haul. Kahn said this will be a long fight, comparing it to the struggle for women’s suffrage.
“Women had to fight every step of the way to attain the rights they have today, and not much progress was made until after they were empowered with the vote in 1920,” Kahn said.

Megan Boldt covers state government and welcomes comments at [email protected]. She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.