The state of Maine is unique in the nation because of our advanced democratic system. Voters approved ranked-choice voting in a 2016 referendum to enhance third-party voices and promote civic education. In 2000, the Maine Clean Elections Act was instituted to decrease corruption with a voluntary public-financing program for political candidates. These reforms make Maine a leading-edge microcosm within the grand American experiment where democracy is continuously constructed. To reach an ideal democracy, however, our state must continue to redesign the future. And the next step in this redesign process is to amend the Maine Constitution and lower the voting age to 16 by passing L.D. 706.

Young people today are more invested than ever in political dynamics. We youth have shown that we are responsible, active members of our community. The fight for stricter gun control laws, climate justice and racial justice are all youth-led initiatives. The four of us – including Waynflete School freshman and climate justice activist Anna Siegel of Yarmouth and Camden Hills Regional High School senior, League of Women Voters of Maine voter turnout volunteer and Latina activist Ava Baeza of Camden, as well as Lilliana Frantz and Cole Cochrane – take it upon ourselves to create change in our community to show our voices matter. We hold prominent roles in both protests and advocacy and lead others to support important issues. This involvement cannot be ignored and must be represented, through not only the rallies we hold but also the votes we cast. Ballot access is meant to allow stakeholders to have a say, and since youth are stakeholders, we must be fairly represented.

Moreover, there is extensive precedent throughout our nation for lowering the voting age. Municipalities across America have passed policies to make voting more fair, accessible and civic-minded by including young adults. This policy change is represented on a local scale in Berkeley and Oakland, California. In these municipalities, the laws passed with 70 percent and 67 percent of the vote, respectively, with Oakland becoming the largest jurisdiction to approve such a law. The California cases were and continue to be youth-led campaigns, in addition to five cities in Maryland that have allowed young adults to vote. These municipal efforts have inspired advocates across the country, in states like Michigan, Massachusetts, Illinois and Hawaii, to create grassroots movements trying to bring constitutional amendments on lowering the voting age to their state legislatures.

On the national level, this specific issue and civics as a topic can get buried in the congressional rush to craft bills on economics, health care and immigration. However, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley introduced an amendment to the H.R. 1 For the People Act that would lower the federal voting age, a move that “will strengthen the promise of our nation’s democracy,” as she stated upon the amendment’s introduction in 2019 and its reintroduction this month. And Pressley was correct. In Takoma Park, Maryland, the first election where young adults could vote resulted in the highest voter turnout from 16- and 17-year-olds. A Danish study found evidence that the earlier one can vote, then the more likely they will vote for the rest of their life as a habit. Studies in Austria (where the minimum voting age is 16) have shown that 16- to 17-year-olds vote just as responsibly as any other constituent.

To say that 16-year-olds are incapable of casting an informed ballot is incorrect. Lowering the voting age to 16 would only strengthen our democracy by allowing active citizens the opportunity to elect individuals who can best represent the true majority. At the age of 16 many youth work a part-time job, pay taxes, drive a car, go to school and educate themselves on local elections and politicians. Although we could not vote in this past presidential election, we continued to advocate for and push others who are able to to exercise their rights and engage in democracy. The expectation put upon today’s young people is that we are to fix the mistakes of past generations and lead us into a brighter world, yet we do not have the basic right to vote. Our voices, youth voices, must be heard. We urge the people of Maine to advocate for the lowering of the voting age and tell their representatives to pass L.D. 706.

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