Students who survived gunfire at Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School have argued passionately and thoughtfully in recent days for solutions to gun violence. And they’ve stood strong under the intense glare on a national stage.
Their impressive performance has led some of us to wonder whether we should be making more room in our political process for young people. Many of these student leaders with clear, strong voices are too young to cast a vote. Should that change?
“The voting age should be lowered to 16,” tweeted former Missouri Sec. of State Jason Kander, whose Let America Vote group is setting up shop in Iowa. He was not alone.
It’s an intriguing idea. School violence is just one among many major issues directly affecting young Americans. Expanding the vote might put a new emphasis on addressing those challenges, just as Florida students’ protests have sparked a wave of debate over gun regulations. We concede turnout numbers among our current youngest voters often is dismal and disappointing. But an earlier introduction to the process could help.
Several municipalities around the country allow citizens under 18 to vote in local elections. In Iowa, it would require a change in state law to permit younger Iowans to cast ballots in elections for city councils and school boards. That would be a good place to test the concept.
But it also strikes us that Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses might be another place where younger voices could be heard. Political parties that run the caucuses are free to set the age of participation, and have for years allowed 17-year-olds who will be 18 by Election Day to participate.
We concede presidential-year caucus turnout already has been busting at the seams. And allowing younger participants could cause some complications. But it’s an idea we think is worth exploring. It seems like any party hoping to grow its base of support would welcome such a youth movement.
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Students in Florida, in Iowa and across the country have said again and again this past week that political leaders are not listening to their concerns or addressing the issues they care about. Many of us have welcomed their voices to the debate. Welcoming their votes could send a powerful signal we’re actually listening.
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