Queens lawmaker reintroduces legislation to lower voting age to 16

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File photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Congresswoman Grace Meng is reintroducing legislation in the House of Representatives to lower the voting age in America to 16. 

Since 16- and 17-year-olds are legally permitted to work, drive, and pay federal income taxes, Meng says they should also be able to have their voices heard at the ballot box. 

“Our young people, including 16- and 17-year-olds, continue to fight and advocate for so many issues that they are passionate about from gun safety to the climate crisis,” Meng said. “They have been tremendously engaged on policies affecting their lives and their futures. Their activism, determination, and efforts to demand change are inspirational and have truly impacted our nation. It’s time to give them a voice in our democracy by permitting them to be heard at the ballot box. “I believe that it is right and fair to also allow them to vote. Let’s let them be heard and make their voices count. Let’s give them a say in choosing who they want their government representatives to be. I’m proud to stand with our young people in introducing this legislation, and I urge my colleagues in the House to support it.” 

In 2018, Meng introduced the measure (H.J. Res. 138) to replace the 26th amendment to the United States 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. 

Meng had noted that 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 Takoma 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. 

Neil Bhateja, board member at the National Youth Rights Association, referenced the lower voting age in Scotland, Brazil, Austria and Argentina, where 16-year-olds have shown that they’re ready to vote and deserve to shape their own futures, he said. 

“The United States should continue its democratic tradition of extending voting rights,” Bhateja said. “The National Youth Rights Association strongly supports Representative Meng’s constitutional amendment to lower the voting age to 16.”

Meng is receiving support from several national organizations that advocate for stronger voting rights. 

Brianna Cea, CEO of Generation Vote, said lowering the voting age is an investment in the leaders of tomorrow and that they’re proud to endorse Meng’s amendment. 

“Empowering the next generation of voters makes our communities stronger, strengthens civic education in our schools, and recognizes the contributions of young people to improving our democracy. In the wake of unprecedented youth voter turnout in 2020 and in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of the 26th amendment, we urge Congress to support this historic bill,” Cea said. 

Samantha Gladu, executive director of the Next Up Action Fund, said support is building nationwide for modernizing the voting age since young people are showing how important it is. 

“The time is now to engage young people as lifelong voters and to recognize all they bring to our democracy. Young people are not our future: they are our present. Harbingers of culture, caretakers of family, and valuable community members. 16- and 17-year-olds are engaged, smart, and capable of casting informed votes which is why we support Congresswoman Meng’s proposed constitutional amendment to lower the voting age,” Gladu 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, which includes 17 original co-sponsors, can be viewed here.