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March 7, 2019

Teen Vogue: Rep. Ayanna Pressley Wants to Lower the Federal Voting Age to 16

Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) is trying to lower the federal voting age to 16. Seeking to prohibit states from denying registration to 16- and 17-year-old voters in congressional and presidential elections, the first-term congresswoman has introduced an amendment to H.R. 1, aka the For the People Act of 2019, a broader election-reform bill designed to address money in politics and protest voter rights.

“Across this nation, young people are leading the way, which has been the case for every social movement throughout our history,” Pressley said in Congress. “They are organizing, mobilizing, and calling on us to take action, making plain the high stakes the next generation faces from gun violence to climate change to the future of work to the solvency of Social Security.”

“These youth, our young people who will inherit the nature we design here by virtue of our policies or by default of our policies and authorities — these very same young people should have a say in who represents them,” Pressley said. “Our young people deserve to have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.”

“Congresswoman Pressley has stood witness to deep and meaningful levels of engagement in policy and our political processes by 16- and 17-year-olds. Young people across the country have mobilized, marched, and protested in support of important issues like gun control, climate change, school safety, and social injustice,” a fact sheet from Pressley’s office reads. “At 16 years old, young people can work, pay taxes and contribute to the economy. It is beyond appropriate that we extend an opportunity for young people to play a role in electing our Representatives both in the halls of Congress and the White House.”

The measure, which would take effect in 2020 if all goes according to plan, would block states from denying people the right to register for federal elections if they’ll be 16 by Election Day. Pressley’s fact sheet points out that local efforts to lower the voting age are already in progress.

In recent years, such initiatives have taken place in Takoma Park, Maryland; Hyattsville, Maryland; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco, California, the state of New York, and Greenbelt, Maryland, where the city’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC) helped get the voting age lowered to 16.

“As I learned, if you explain the reasoning behind lowering the age, people will often change their minds,” Ema Smith wrote for Teen Vogue in November 2017 after the measure was approved by voters. “In Greenbelt, that change was made by the members of the YAC and I. With our efforts (and the pamphlets that we made), we educated residents, we created a dialogue about the topic, and ultimately, we got people to vote in favor of the change.”

While organizations like Vote 16 USA were already addressing the issue, calls to lower the voting age gained new momentum in 2018 when the March for Our Lives demonstrated the power of young people engaged in politics. Experts say lowering the voting age could have a big impact on elections, and activists say it’s necessary.

“After seeing the high level of engagement so many youth in our city already had, we knew it was unacceptable for us not to have democratic influence on the decisions that affect not only the ways our public schools are run, but how we are kept safe at school,” Melina Fike, a voting-age activist from Berkley, California, wrote in a Teen Vogue op-ed last year. “Lowering the voting age in any election doesn’t just promote civic engagement, but gives teenagers who are clearly paying attention the right to vote on matters that directly affect them.”