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Michigan lawmakers introduce bill to lower voting age to 16

Vote Here sign
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio
The bill aims to give teenagers a greater say in the political system.

Michigan’s voting age could be lowered to 16 if lawmakers pass a bill that was introduced this week.

This bill, sponsored by Senator David Knezek and Representative Yousef Rabhi, follows an outpouring of teen advocacy after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida in February. The legislators hope to give teenagers a voice in the political process-- after all, they say, the political process impacts 16 year olds.

"We allow 16-year-olds to go off and get jobs and pay taxes, but we fail to allow them to exercise their voice come election time," Knezek told the Detroit Free Press. "Young people are setting aside their differences and identifying issues they think need to change. And they can do everything to get that change except vote."

Opponents of the age change say 16-year-olds are not mature enough to make informed decisions. But Knezek and Rabhi point to experts who say key cognitive decision-making processes are “solidified” in people’s minds by that age.

Additionally, studies show better voting habits are created when people can vote at a younger age. Brandon Klugman coordinates Vote16USA, a national campaign organized by Generation Citizen to advocate for a younger voting age across the country. He says 18-to-24 year olds generally have very low voter turnout numbers. However, those stats tend to be higher for 16 and 17 year olds in places where they already have the right to vote.

“Young people tend to be living at home and have the support of family, friends, peers, and importantly, educators at school, whereas 18 is just such a time of transition that a lot of folks don’t end up voting in their first election,” Klugman says.

Still, some say it’s unlikely the voting age will actually change any time soon. It would require a change in the state and federal constitutions. For this to happen, the bill would need to gain a super majority in both the Republican-controlled state House and Senate and pass a vote from the people.

But proponents of the age drop-- like Brian Conner of the National Youth Rights Association-- say this isn't really a partisan issue.

“16 and 17 year olds can have any political alignment and I think the right to vote is a fundamental thing,” Conner says.

Maya Goldman is a newsroom intern for Michigan Radio. She is currently a student at the University of Michigan, where she studies anthropology and writing. During the school year, Maya also works as a senior news editor and podcast producer for The Michigan Daily.
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