Sufferin’ for suffrage: should teens have the right to vote?

Like many teens, Miranda Rosenberg has a part-time job. The 17-year-old Floridian earns money working at her dad’s dermatology practice. Last year when her father asked her to sign her first income-tax form, something seemed wrong to Miranda. She had to pay taxes, but she couldn’t vote. U.S. history came to mind. “Paying taxes [while] not being allowed to vote is [tantamount] to taxation without representation–the exact same slogan Ben Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson championed more than 200 years ago,” said Miranda. “I pay taxes … I get zero representation. Zip. Nada.”

Miranda then began a crusade to lower the voting age in her state. To get her initiative on the state ballot, Miranda needs the signatures of 489,000 registered Florida voters. With only 2,000 so far, Miranda faces an uphill battle. But that isn’t stopping her. “What’s important is getting the idea out … to make an impression,” she said.

Teens like Miranda are indeed making an impression. Lawmakers in several states have recently considered proposals to lower their states’ voting ages. Although that’s not likely to happen before Election Day, November 2, many Americans are asking: Should 16- and 17-year-olds have the right to vote?

They’re Just Teens

Teens are simply too immature to vote, say detractors. “They just don’t have the experience to vote wisely. They haven’t experienced the justice system … or even traffic congestion,” said Art Croney, a lobbyist for Responsible Citizens, Inc., of California.

Croney says teens are too impressionable. “Young people would be more influenced by their peer[s] … or a popular figure,” he said. “Who knows what kind of movie star action figure they might elect?” he added, [wryly] alluding to the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as California’s governor.

Though James Hohmann, of Apple Valley, Minn., will turn 18 just three months after Election Day, he doesn’t feel he’s been cheated out of his right to vote. “I think a lot of people about 16 or 17 aren’t always responsible,” he said.

We’re Ready

The idea that teens are too immature to vote is baloney, say advocates. “Many adults are not informed or responsible, and that doesn’t stop them from voting. Yet if you’re 16 and know all the issues … you can’t vote. We see that as hypocritical,” said Alex Koroknay-Palicz, of the National Youth Rights Association, to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Other supporters say allowing younger teens to vote will make them more likely to go to the polls as adults. “If you can get young adults to cast a ballot in one of their first two or three elections, you increase the likelihood that they’ll [vote] regularly. If you miss that first window, you’ll probably lose them,” said Tom Patterson, head of the Vanishing Voter Project, an organization devoted to increasing voter turnout.

Taxation Without Representation. “No taxation without representation” and “taxation without representation is tyranny” were the rallying cries for pre-Revolutionary War American Colonists. The Colonists were obligated to pay taxes to London, yet had no representatives in Parliament. They felt they were being forced to fund a government into which they had no input. To be taxed only with the consent of one’s representatives in Parliament was a particularly treasured right of English law that dated back to the Magna Carta in the thirteenth century. Each additional tax imposed by the British created more resentment among Colonists. Their frustration culminated in the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Angry Colonists, dressed as Native Americans, boarded three British tea ships and threw the tea into the Boston Harbor to protest the British tea tax. Taxation without representation is one of the principal offenses by Britain listed in the Declaration of Independence.

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