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Photo courtesy of Congresswoman Grace Meng's office
Photo courtesy of Congresswoman Grace Meng's office
Congresswoman Grace Meng at an Appropriations Committee meeting on March 20, 2018.

With only a month remaining until primary elections for a number of Queens political districts, one local lawmaker believes that it’s time to lower the voting age.

Congresswoman Grace Meng announced on Aug. 15 that she has introduced a Constitutional amendment in the House of Representatives that would lower the voting age in the United States to 16. It’s designed to replace the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1971, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

The 26th Amendment came about from a movement fueled by teenagers getting drafted to fight in the Vietnam War and the coinciding student protests against the war. Meng explained that, in light of recent events, a similar, even younger movement is underway.

“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,” Meng said. “Voting is a serious responsibly. But I believe that our youth are mature enough at these ages to responsibly cast a ballot. 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. It’s clear to me that they should be allowed to vote.”

Meng also noted that cities in 13 states and the District of Columbia already have the ability to lower the voting age for local elections through charter amendments. Some have already done so, including Takoma Park, Maryland, the first city in America to lower the voting age for local elections to 16. In Hyattsville, Maryland, 16- and 17-year-old voters are hitting the polls at a rate that is nearly quadruple that of older citizens.

Around the world, at least 20 countries allow citizens under the age of 18 to vote. In Scotland, for example, 75 percent of all 16-year-olds voted in the recent elections, a rate higher than voters three times their age.

Here in Queens, low voter turnout has played a major role in a number of recent local elections. When Assemblyman Brian Barnwell defeated then-incumbent Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, a little more than 2,500 people placed votes. In 2017, Councilman Robert Holden defeated then-incumbent Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley when only 22.3 percent of voters cast a ballot.

Most recently, only 11.6 percent of registered Democrats voted when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upset incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley in June.

“Sixteen- and 17-year-olds are legally permitted to work and they pay federal income tax on their earnings,” Meng said. “They are legally permitted to drive motor vehicles, and if they commit crimes they are tried as adults. I think it is only fair to allow them the right to vote as well.”

At least one Republican on the local level disagrees. Queens County GOP Chair Joann Ariola told QNS that 16-year-olds are not yet equipped with the political know-how to place an educated vote in an election.

“I would not be in favor of changing the voting age to 16 because I don’t believe that at 16, a person’s ideology is really truly formed politically,” Ariola said. “I think that it is a good age to engage people who want to volunteer and learn about the political process, and when they become of age to vote they can make an educated decision of which party to enroll in and which candidate to vote for.”

Ariola explained that volunteering sparked her own interest in politics at that age, and added that increasing voter turnout is more about having new and exciting candidates step up and run for office.

A lot of times if people are not excited they feel it’s not as important to get out and vote,” Ariola said. “When you have a governor who believes that America has ‘never been great’ and a mayor that believes he can bring prisons and shelters in wherever he wants, they just throw their hands up thinking they can’t make a difference.”

Approving Meng’s legislation will not be an easy task, as 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.

The legislation has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee to await further action.

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Michael August 19, 2018 / 07:36PM
As if this is going to happen. Maybe Congresswoman Meng should work on some real legislation?
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