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Opinion | Jennifer C. Braceras

Ayanna Pressley thinks your 16-year-old should be able to vote. Let that sink in a minute

(Globe Staff; Adobe)

Representative Ayanna Pressley thinks your 16-year-old should be able to vote.

Let that sink in a minute.

She wants to let your monosyllabic, barely-driving child and her friends help determine the next president of the United States.

In many cases, you will have to drive her to the polls, but why should that stop her from canceling out your vote? (Rest assured, if you recently punished her for staying out too late or bringing home bad grades, she will cancel your vote — and brag about it to her friends.)

Thankfully, the House of Representatives last week rejected Pressley’s proposal to lower the federal voting age to 16. The measure failed 305-126, with nearly half of all Democrats and almost every Republican voting against it.

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And with good reason. At 16, most kids have little awareness of politics, civics, or American history, and they have little life experience to inform their decisions. Although a small percentage may work or even contribute to household expenses, few hold full-time jobs or fully care for themselves. Most don’t even pay for their own cellphones — let alone groceries, rent, utility bills, or property taxes. Simply put, they don’t have enough skin in the game.

Currently, the 26th Amendment to the Constitution sets a minimum voting age of 18. In 2013, Takoma Park, Md., became the first US city to grant 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in local elections. Several other local jurisdictions have followed Takoma Park’s lead. And a number of states allow 17-year-olds to vote in presidential primaries or caucuses if they will be 18 prior to the general election.

Here in Massachusetts, state Representative Andy Vargas and Senator Harriette Chandler have introduced a bill that would grant cities and towns the power to extend voting rights to individuals as young as 16 for local elections.

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Supporters of teen voting, such as Pressley, argue that “those who will inherit the nation” should have a say in policies that will impact their future. Of course, 16-year-olds are not the only ones who will “inherit the nation.” Fourteen-year-olds will also come of age in a world created by the previous generation. So will 5-year-olds. Should we let them vote too?

Age limits on voting and other privileges are by definition arbitrary. But, in general, society has established 18 as the age of majority. Parents are responsible for their children until the age of 18. And 18 is the age at which one can serve in the military or get married without parental consent.

Our Republic is premised on the notion that with rights come responsibilities. One such responsibility is jury service, which is not required until — you guessed it — age 18. And in most places the legal drinking age is 21 — although, in my view, that too should be 18.

At the same time that we are seeing an increase in measures to lower the voting age, many jurisdictions are raising the age at which people can do other things. There is, for example, a growing movement to raise the minimum age for gun ownership to 21.

Last year, Massachusetts lawmakers raised the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 12. Five years ago, they raised the jurisdictional age of juvenile courts from 17 to 18, and a state commission is currently considering whether to raise the juvenile age even higher.

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Ironically, in the District of Columbia, the same city councilors who voted to allow 16-year-olds to vote also supported increasing the District’s smoking age to 21.

So while there is a growing recognition that teen brains are not fully developed or always capable of rational decision-making, proponents of a lower voting age claim that they are fully capable of electing our leaders and deciding how taxpayer dollars are spent.

Contrary to the claims of proponents of teen voting, there is no evidence that growing the pool of potential voters will increase participation rates — in fact, young people tend to turn out in lower proportions than older voters.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Democrats like Pressley want to lower the voting age in order to increase the pool of potential Democratic voters. But does it really make sense to offer the franchise to a cohort more concerned with what to wear to the big dance than what we should do about immigration?

We are already living in the age of the reality-TV presidency. If 16-year-olds get the vote, can President Taylor Swift be far behind?


Jennifer C. Braceras is a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum.