I’m 17 and I want to vote

Anna Schmid

The Sacramento City Council will add a non-voting teenager to sit in on meetings to offer input and help represent the city’s youth commission. While this is a small step forward in recognizing the value teenagers can provide on key issues that affect young people, it does not go far enough. Teenagers who are 17 should be allowed to vote. They have the ability, knowledge and experience to effectively participate in elections. By lowering the voting age to 17, teenagers’ voices would be better represented in our democracy on important issues, including the use of income tax and healthcare policy. 

There are 21 million employed people between the ages of 16 and 24, including several million 17-year-olds. These teenagers pay income taxes, which are then allocated by the government based on voters’ preferences. For example, government decisions affect how much money is spent on welfare programs such as food stamps, child nutrition and housing assistance. These taxed teenagers have opinions on where their tax dollars should be spent. Because the voting age is 18, 17-year-olds are essentially being taxed without representation.

Teenagers should also be represented in healthcare policy. For example, on the California ballot in the recent midterm, Prop 1 amended the State Constitution to protect access to abortion and contraceptives. This is vitally important to young women. In California alone, 11 out of every 1,000 teenage girls ages 15-19 give birth. Furthermore, there are about 15,000 total reported rapes and 1 in 20 of those rapes will result in pregnacy. Women of childbearing age deserve to have a voice in reproductive rights to protect their autonomy and physical health.

Critics argue that the voting age should not be lowered to 17 because teens do not have the incentive to vote. They also argue the current voting age of 18 is still young enough to make an impact on a teenager’s future. Although 18-year-olds may have more education and experience, there are mature 17-year-olds who want to better their futures and get into college. This can often start in a high school government class, typically a graduation requirement, which provides students with general knowledge of how the government works, including elections, giving teens the ability to participate effectively in an election. Teachers can also help build voting momentum by applying what the students are learning to the real world or even offering credit to vote.

Teenagers are mature and educated enough to participate effectively in elections. A significant number of teenagers are active in the workforce without the tax representation they deserve. Teenagers have a right to participate in healthcare policy that affects their own bodily autonomy. The voting age should be lowered to 17 for state and federal elections because teenagers are active, participating members of society. The Sacramento City Council is a leader in recognizing the value and perspective that young adults bring to the table. Hopefully many will follow.