WASHINGTON— Lowering the voting age to 17 could increase youth participation in the next several election cycles, a national expert argues.
The voting age in the United States is currently 18, as dictated by the 26th Amendment, which took effect in 1971 and lowered the legal age requirement to vote from 21.
But Peter Levine thinks it should be lowered another year.
“It is not a crazy or radical idea, most kids do have to study civics later in high school,” said Levine, an associate dean of the College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University.
High school seniors are already doing the courses required to learn about government, Levine said, who argues there’s a natural overlap between high school and college that can help younger people engage in political participation.
Levine said the transition to college may adversely affects the beginning of a citizen’s engagement in voting because the local connection to voting can go away when a student is transplanted to a new environment.
“It seems the impact of discussion would be greater if kids could vote right away,” Levine said.
Youth participation in presidential elections increased in 2008 and 2012, but the long views shows that youth voter participation before that was on the decline.
In 2012, the 18 to 29 year-old voting block ranked the second-largest age group in the U.S., just behind the Boomers, who range from 47 to 67 years old, according to data compiled by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
But still only 45 percent of Millenials participated in the last presidential election compared to 66 percent of those 30 or older, according to CIRCLE data.
Why 17? Why now?
Levine argues that the social climate now is different than the last time the voting age was lowered. The weight of the draft is not looming over youth and national pressure for representation is not at a boiling point, he said.
David Campbell, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame, agrees stating in his research that 30-year-olds have a higher turnout of voting if they were encouraged to do so in their high school years.
In 1970, the argument was that if the government affected citizens, they should have the right to vote and influence the government.
“You have to be careful, said Levine, because that argument could also applies to 3-year-olds.
What makes 17 year-olds different is the time of their life and the access to fundamental U.S. government education, one that is not required in a college setting. While high school student social studies classes care relevant Levine recommends some education reform to require a class during voting seasons.
“We want to have lesson, or a class day to focus around the mechanics of the elections. Like how to operate a voting machine.”
Some people still question the maturity of 17-year-olds to vote, Levine said.
“To the extent that we’ve measured, 17 year-olds and 22 or 25 year-olds—they know just as much,” he said.
Critics also question Levine’s political motive, saying if younger people start voting they will vote Democratic. Levine says they are wrong.
“That is a short-term perspective,” said Levine. “Over the long run, people can go either way.” Levine gave the example of younger voters support President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, in the 1980s even though they lean Democratic now.
But even Levine acknowledges lowering the voting age is an idea facing an uphill battle.
“At this point, it would take a lot of persuasion,” said Levine “There is not a real push for national change.”
While to road to more young people being eligible to vote in federal election is not on the horizon, municipal legislatures in San Francisco and Maryland are working towards or have already made way for 17-year old voters in city and county elections.
FairVote, a non-partisan organization dedicated to developing analysis and tools to improve elections, the biggest compromise to date is that many states allow 17 year olds to vote in primaries if they are 18 by the general election.