Give young people the vote | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin
Op-Ed

Give young people the vote

The Hill

Since the start of the pandemic, many 16- and 17-year-old Americans have proven that they possess the social responsibility and political maturity to help elect better leaders. Their future is at stake — perhaps more than ever — in the decisions our society makes about climate change and global health. An aging electorate has not shown that it can make better choices.

The United States should do what the new governing coalition in Germany, Europe's largest democracy, has pledged to do: lower the voting age to 16. It is time to give younger voices — more than 8 million men and women — a chance to be heard.

The challenges of COVID-19 have hit Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) particularly hard. They have endured separation from peers, online Zoom schooling and confinement during the years they most seek independence and adventure. Many have become primary caregivers for siblings, parents and other relatives, or have had to confront the mortality of loved ones. They have learned to vaccinate, mask up, socially distance and adopt other protection measures.

We have only begun to understand the social effects of these experiences, but no one can deny the pervasive resilience and sense of interdependence among those attending high school. They understand the tough realities of our world from the personal trials few of their predecessors endured. They have earned a say in our elections.

The time has passed for arguing that 16- and 17-year-olds are "not ready" to vote. They are better prepared to address crucial issues confronting our democracy than any generation since those who returned from World War II.