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Conversation Series: At What Age Should A Person Be Able To Vote?

December 18, 2020

You might know that you have to be eighteen to vote, but that wasn’t always the case. Voting age was actually twenty-one before it was reduced to eighteen in 1971. The saying, “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” was a rallying cry for activists who wanted to reduce the voting age. After all, if you’re old enough to fight in a war at eighteen, you should be old enough to vote, right?

More recently, some cities have been working to further reduce the voting age, especially in local elections where big decisions impact younger people. One such election? The one for the school board or for people who determine how the school districts plan and do their work. In 2013, Takoma Park in Maryland became the first city to lower its voting age to sixteen for local elections, and other cities in the region followed suit. Berkeley in California was next, as it passed a similar vote in 2016. And now, it’s Oakland in California’s turn.

This fall, Oakland student organizers rallied to write letters, draft legislation, and collect votes to put the measure on the ballot. Did they win? Yes! The ballot passed by a wide margin, allowing sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds to vote in school board elections. And this isn’t the first time Oakland students have campaigned for change and won—in 1981, a group of high-schoolers lobbied for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to be made a state holiday. This was the first holiday honoring a black man in America. We’d say there’s more than enough evidence here to support the right for young people to vote!