Sixteen-year-olds can drive and pay taxes. Soon, they may also be able to vote in Oregon. That’s after state lawmakers announced a measure today to lower the state’s voting age from 18 to 16.
The bill sponsors want 16-year-olds to cast ballots in all elections, including federal-level offices.
But It’s unclear if the proposal could legally reach beyond state and local elections to change how federal candidates are elected.
Oregon state Sen. Shemia Fagan (D) said teenagers are “begging us to take action to protect their future.”
Fagan pointed to the political activism of Parkland, Florida, students, who challenged lawmakers to tighten gun control laws after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last February.
Young residents should have “a chance to participate in the ballot — about decisions that affect their homes, their clean air, their future, their schools and, as we’ve seen, their very lives,” Fagan said at a news conference announcing the measure to lower the age ahead of the 2020 general election.
Samantha Gladu, executive director of the youth grassroots organization Bus Project, said 16- and 17-year-olds are engaged and smart enough to cast informed votes.
“They know that we have to take action urgently on issues like education funding, health care, climate justice and gun violence in particular,” Gladu said. “I’m also hearing a lot from 16- and 17-year-olds about the need for criminal justice reform and the need to stop mass incarceration.”
Natalie Khalil, a senior at Lake Oswego High School in Oregon who has been organizing for gun law reform, said high school students should be able to apply the knowledge they learn in their civics classes.
Allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote will “create lifelong voters,” Khalil said.
In Austria, Brazil and Argentina, the minimum age to vote is 16.
The U.S. voting age was last changed in 1971 after a decades-long fight to lower it from 21.
Supporters of the 26th Amendment argued that any citizen who was old enough to be drafted into the military at age 18 to fight in the Vietnam War should also be allowed to vote.
If the measure passes in Oregon, it would be become the first state in the nation to lower the statewide voting age to 16.
Thirteen other states, including Washington, have introduced bills since 2003 to lower the voting age, some for just school board elections and some for all state elections.
None have passed.
There also have been efforts on the local level for city elections.
Two Maryland cities, Takoma Park and Hayattesville, have lowered their voting age with a city council vote.
Fourteen other states, including Oregon, allow 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote so they will be added to the voter rolls when they turn 18, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.