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The Youth Effort To Lower The Voting Age To 16


Let me go back to an issue I raised last weekend on this program. I was thinking about some of the proposals put forward by students who've been touched by gun violence that they've been urging adults to consider, and I decided to throw another idea into the mix. Let them vote. How about lowering the voting age to 16?

Well, we received a ton of emails after that story aired, and several of them pointed out that there are people already working on this with some success and some setbacks. We called Lorelei Vaisse to tell us more about this. She is a senior at Lowell High School in San Francisco and a youth advisory board member for Vote16USA. That's the organization trying to lower the voting age. And I started by asking her why she got involved.

LORELEI VAISSE: I have always been extremely interested in politics. I talk about politics with my dad all the time, often disagreeing with his ideas. And I thought that expanding voting rights to 16 year olds was an amazing idea because I really wanted to vote. I couldn't wait to vote, and a lot of these issues affect 16, 17 year olds, so there's really no reason for them to not be able to vote.

MARTIN: What are some of the reactions that you have heard from people when you have raised this idea of lowering the voting age? What do people say?

VAISSE: People say that 16 year olds and 17 year olds are not mature enough to vote or that they would vote just like their parents. And this has been disproven because in the 2014 Scottish referendum, 16 and 17 year olds were able to vote, and 40 percent of them voted differently from their parents, which showed that they won't necessarily always vote how their parents are voting. And speaking from personal experience, it's the same situation with me because I'm always disagreeing with my parents on political issues.

Other people have raised the issue that lowering the voting age is just a ploy to get more votes for the Democrats, but a 2014 Pew survey showed that 50 percent of millennials self-identify as political independents.

MARTIN: So what about the whole - the broader maturity question? I mean, what do you say to that? I mean, I think that people's kind of - what would I say? - knee-jerk reaction to this would be, oh, you know what, teenagers are so impulsive. They're just immature. They're just not - they're not going to take it seriously. What would you say to that?

VAISSE: Right. So there are two types of cognition. There's hot cognition and cold cognition. And hot cognition is kind of this impulsive reaction to situations, but cold cognition is well-thought-out ideas. And research has shown that although in hot cognition, 16 year olds do differ from 18 year olds, studies have shown that cold cognition does not differ from 16 to 18 year olds.

MARTIN: Well, I understand that there have been some success stories and some setbacks - in Maryland, for example - that there are three cities in Maryland where 16 year olds can vote in local elections. But in 2016, San Francisco, where you live, had lowering the voting age on the ballot as Proposition F, but it failed. Any thoughts about why?

VAISSE: Although the proposition didn't pass, I wouldn't call it a failure because in March or April of 2016, we conducted a survey to see how many people would vote in favor of the proposition, and only 36 percent voted yes. But then in November, we had 48 percent voting yes. So we did increase the number of people who were in support of this proposition, and I think that this comes to show that with education, people are often swayed to vote in favor of this idea.

MARTIN: All right. That's Lorelei Vaisse. She is on the youth advisory board for Vote16USA. That's an organization that is trying to lower the voting age in the United States to 16. Lorelei Vaisse, thank you so much for speaking with us.

VAISSE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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