Legislators in Oregon and California have introduced bills this month to give more teenagers the right to vote.
Democratic lawmakers in Oregon proposed a bill this week to lower the statewide voting age to 16 to address the concerns of teenagers who are "begging us to take action to protect their future," state Senator Shemia Fagan told the Oregonian.
Two bills have been introduced in California: one that would allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the next general election to vote in primaries, and another that would allow all people 17 or older to vote in any election. Assemblyman Evan Low, who introduced the latter bill, argues that lowering the voting age would teach teenagers about the political process and give them a better chance to have their voices heard.
In 2018, lawmakers introduced bills in Virginia, Minnesota, New York, and Washington, D.C., to lower the voting age to 16. None of these bills made it out of committee. A total of 14 states have introduced such bills since 2003, though none of them have become law, the Associated Press reports.
These bills are the latest in an ongoing movement to enfranchise more young people. The national voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1971 under the Twenty-Sixth Amendment. Activists, including former Senator Ted Kennedy, campaigned for this change for 30 years before any action was taken. Their primary justification was that anyone old enough to be drafted into the military to fight in the Vietnam War should be eligible to vote. Representative Grace Meng (D-New York) introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives last summer proposing a new amendment to the Constitution to lower the national voting age to 16.
While no state currently allows teenagers under 18 to vote in a general election, many states have laws allowing 17-year-olds to vote in congressional primaries or presidential primaries and caucuses if they will turn 18 by the time of the general election. In two Maryland cities, 16-year-olds can vote in local elections, and, in Berkeley, California, 16-year-olds can vote in school board elections.
California Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, who introduced the bill to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Republicans are concerned that the legislators introducing these bills are "trying to form more Democrats." While Democrats deny this, evidence shows most young voters register without a party affiliation, and independent voters lean Democrat in elections by about a two-to-one margin, according to Public Policy Institute of California President Mark Baldassare.