Usually when I write my thoughts here to share with you I live up to the “Opinion” title of the section. I come in with an experience, or a memory, or an idea, and I mold it and shape it until at the end: ta-da!

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

There it is, my formed little notion.

This week is different. This week I find myself in the strange and slightly uncomfortable position of feeling strongly about something and not being sure I am right.

The issue at hand: lowering the voting age to 16.

Now, you’d think that I, an acknowledged progressive liberal who is fervently in favor of voter rights and voter access, would be all over this idea. Yeah, I know, I thought so, too. But I’m not. Strange. And I am uncomfortable with that.

All sorts of recent data and brain development studies indicate that 16-year-olds are capable of making clear, informed decisions, free from peer pressure, with objective reasoning behind them. I do not dispute this.

In my own life, I have known many a 16-year-old who I would fully trust with my car, my dogs, my home, my kids. I’ve listened to 16-year-olds in debate club and worked alongside them on campaigns in the real world. They inspire me.

In this light, it makes total sense to give them the vote.

And yet, in my conception of how our government works and of what the vote means, this is a right and responsibility of adulthood. The problem is, I do not think of a 16-year-old as an adult. In fact, there are circumstances in this world where I think that that construct is flat-out dangerous.

For example, I do not believe a 16-year-old should be able to marry or enlist. I feel the burden of society to protect. I feel their status as children.

That said, there is an argument to be made that casting a vote is a vastly different and less lifelong-consequential decision than my examples, and so different age allowances are appropriate much as the age to drink or purchase cigarettes is 21, three years beyond legal adulthood.

Austria has already made this move. Other European nations, not to mention several U.S. states, are considering this change as well and numerous studies indicate that early registration and involvement in elections promote lifelong voting patterns and investment in the system.

I am for all of this.

And yet.

And yet, I cannot shake the worry that in granting this right and responsibility of adulthood, we are jeopardizing the ability to protect vulnerable teens from coercion into decisions they are not yet ready to make.

So there it is, my giant conundrum. I have data, lots of data. I have studies, lots of studies. But I do not have a sense of certainty that this is a wise move to make. Nor that my opposition to it is correct.

In the spirit of a genuine conversation involving an open exchange of ideas – and without the all-too-prevalent habit of shredding a differing viewpoint – I am curious: What do you think? More importantly, why? What does the information tell you? Does it contradict your own previous ideas? What do you make of that contradiction?

As for me, I’m still wrestling.

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