lowering the voting age to 17

(New York City) One of the recommendations of our major recent report, “All Together Now: Collaboration and Innovation for Youth Engagement,” is to experiment with lowering the voting age to 17 in local and state elections. Voting for the first time at 18 is a bit problematic, because that is just when many people have left the communities in which they grew up for work or college. They are suddenly in networks of other 18-year-olds, in which everyone is new to politics, and less connected to older adults. On the other hand, if you could vote at 17, you could register in school and learn about the political system and how to vote in your social studies class.

In November, Takoma Park, MD tried it. Their 16- and 17-year-old residents voted in the city’s municipal election. Their turnout was 16.9%, nearly double the 8.5% turnout rate of eligible residents 18 and up.

This is a tiny data point–one election in one small community. A possible explanation for the respectable turnout is that it was the first time; there was a “buzz” about the new right to vote. We know that the first presidential election in which 18-21’s could vote, 1972, set a turnout record never since matched. But the more optimistic explanation is that Takoma Park kids heard about the election in school and were encouraged to vote. That could happen every year.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.