By Carlotta Mohamed
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) wants to lower the voting age in the United States to 16 years old in legislation introduced to the House of Representatives last week.
The congresswoman’s measure seeks to replace the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution with a new amendment that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. The last time the voting age was changed was when it was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1971.
“I am a firm believer that we should empower our young people and that includes extending the right to vote for 16- and 17-year-olds,” said Meng. “Over the past year, we have seen a huge wave of inspirational and passionate activism by students from all across the country. Students are demanding change on issues such as gun safety, climate change and health care. They deserve to have their voices heard at the ballot box and to have a say in the change for which they’re vigorously advocating.”
Meng said that since 16- and 17-year-olds are legally permitted to work and they pay federal income tax on their earnings, drive motor vehicles, and tried as adults if they commit serious crimes, it is only fair to allow them the right to vote.
According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, New York was previously one of only two states in the nation that automatically processed 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, no matter their offense.
In April 2017, Cuomo signed legislation raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old, ensuring that young people in New York who commit non-violent crimes receive intervention and evidence-based treatment.
The measures will be phased in over time, raising the age of juevenile delinquency from age 16- to 17-years-old beginning in October and subsequently raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old on Oct. 1, 2019, according to the governor’s office.
According to Meng, cities in 13 states and the District of Columbia have the legal ability to lower the voting age for local elections through charter amendments, and several have already done so. In Tacoma Park, Md. — the first city in America to lower the voting age for local elections to 16 — and in Hyattsville, Md., 16- and 17-year-olds are voting at rates that nearly quadruple those of older voters.
Internationally, at least 20 countries allow citizens under the age of 18 to vote and 16-year-olds had a 75 percent turnout rate in the Scottish independence referendum – a rate higher than voters three times their age, Meng said.
Constitutional amendments require passage by two-thirds of the House and Senate and ratification by three-fourths of the nation’s state legislatures. If enacted, the voting age would be lowered for federal, state and local elections.
Meng’s legislation has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it is awaiting further action.
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha