Oregonians, like other Americans, can vote when they turn 18. That may change, however, if a handful of state lawmakers have their way. They believe 16-year-olds should be given the vote, and they’ve introduced legislation that would put the question before the people of Oregon.
State Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Clackamas, told reporters this week that lowering the voting age would allow 16-year-olds to have a say in the decisions that involve “their homes, their clean air … their very lives.”
Take that idea to its logical conclusion and there’s no reason to stop at 16. Why not give the vote to 2-year-olds? Or at least to kids who are old enough to know which end of the pencil to write with? After all, legislative decisions made today will have an effect on toddlers as well as teenagers, and that argues for giving them a say in the matter.
But 16-year-olds are not mature adults, and Oregon and other states recognize that fact. They may not sign contracts, give blood without a parent’s consent or adopt a child. They may not buy lottery tickets or, in theory, at least, move away from home. Nor can they get tattoos or join the military without a parent’s consent. Those privileges all come at age 18.
Fagan and her fellow lawmakers have more than just giving children a say at the ballot box on their minds. They know, no doubt, that teens tend to be more liberal than adults, and if younger teens are voting in Oregon that may help strengthen their party in the Legislature. A pair of studies by the Pew Research Center found teens 18 and under generally were far more liberal than Gen Xers, people whose age ranges from 39 to 54.
So far attempts to lower the voting age have failed in 13 states since 2003 and succeeded in none. The best thing the Oregon Legislature can do is make that number 14-0.