Oregon Lawmakers Seek To Lower Voting Age To 16-Years Of Age

Oregon state Sen. Shamia Fagan.Screengrab/Dick Hughes/YouTube

Democratic lawmakers in Oregon want to lower the voting age to 16, but Republicans are not on board with the change.

According to Oregon Live, a group of Oregonian legislators are seeking to lower the state’s voting age to 16-years old, and they hope to have the bill ready for the 2020 election.

Democratic state Senator Shemia Fagan said young people in Oregon should have “a chance to participate in the ballot -- about decisions that affect their homes, their clean air, their schools and, as we’ve seen, their very lives.” Teenagers are “begging us to take action to protect their future," Fagan said, as she referenced the “Never Again” movement launched by students following the 2018 mass shooting at their high school in Parkland, Florida.

There have been movements in the past to lower voting ages: Prior to the passing of the 26th Amendment, the voting age was 21; but the unpopularity of the Vietnam War among America’s youth pressured Congress to lower the age. The youth voting rights cause argued that they were “old enough to fight, old enough to vote.”

The new Oregon bill may only end up applying to state and local elections, but the sponsors of the bill hope that the amendment will be extended to federal elections, according to CNN.

Samantha Gladu, the executive director of the youth grassroots organization Bus Project spoke in favor of the bill.

"They know that we have to take action urgently on issues like education funding, health care, climate justice and gun violence in particular," Gladu said. "I'm also hearing a lot from 16- and 17-year-olds about the need for criminal justice reform and the need to stop mass incarceration."

Some of Oregon’s youth spoke at the press conference to advocate for themselves and why they support the ability to vote. Maria Torres, a high school senior, said, "We need to be able to take our work to the ballot and protect the policies we’re working so hard to pass.” Another high school senior, Natalie Khalil, argued that students should have the ability to apply their knowledge from civics class. She insisted that the new bill will “create lifelong voters.”

State Senate Republican leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. is opposed to the legislation. "16-year-olds are too young to enlist in the military, too young to own firearms, too young to own property, too young to enter into legal contracts, and too young to get married. But they are old enough to vote? People are not legally considered adults in this country until they are 18 years old, and I believe they shouldn't be able to vote until then either," he said. "This is nothing more than an attempt to expand the voter rolls to sway elections."

As of now, only some cities in Maryland have given the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds.

In general, the turnout for young voters (aged 18 to 29) is lower than other age groups. Yet, during the 2018 midterm elections, this age group had an unusually high turnout at 31 percent — and the group favored Democratic candidates. Increasing the voter population by giving those aged 16 and 17 the right to vote could have a highly positive effect for both voter turnout and the Democratic party.