Back in November, before it snowed much, nine Oregon legislators placed Joint Resolution 22 on the legislative docket. It would place a referendum on Oregon’s 2020 state-wide ballot to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 years of age. The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1971 by the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Joint Resolution 22 proposes an amendment to Oregon’s Constitution that would extend voting rights in virtually all elections, federal, state, and local, to 16-year olds. The amendment would maintain the present U.S. citizenship and Oregon residency requirements — 6 months immediately prior to the election — and require all voters to registers at least 20 days prior to the election. It would include the legal requirement that “persons who vote upon questions of levying special taxes or issuing public bonds” be taxpayers.
Spearheaded by 38-year-old Sen. Shemia Fagan (D, Portland), the measure would make Oregon the first state in the U.S. to lower the voting age to 16. Fagan’s motivation for proposing this stems from growing high-school activism after the Parkland, Florida shooting, and other causes.
The idea of extending voting rights to 16-year-olds is controversial. They can drive. They can work and pay taxes. They may be charged and sentenced like an adult if they commit a crime. But in Oregon, they are also too young to get married, too young to enlist in the military, and too young to legally own property or enter into contracts.
High school and middle school students in Enterprise had strong but differing opinions on the subject of the 16-year-old vote.
“It’s like the level of maturity is different (between 16 year-olds and 18 year olds),” said middle school student Caden Fent. “I feel like 16-year-olds aren’t really mature enough. A lot of them wouldn’t take it as seriously as they should.”
“I think it’s a great idea.,” said 8th grader Sydney Hopkins. The last election was really close and not many people voted.” Asked if she would vote if she were 16, Hopkins added “Yes! It’s definitely an important thing to do.”
“I think it would be smart, allowing them to vote. Teenagers don’t get a say in much around here,” said Nevin Goldsmith, 14. “In elections it’s always 18 and older. So it would be nice for teenagers to have a say in what goes on.” Would he vote when he reached 16? “Yes, definitely!”
“I think it would be good to vote in matters that would directly effect our community in some ways, especially concerning education. I’m for it, ” said Roan Flynn, 14.
“I feel like some would be a little irresponsible, but there would be some mature ones who would understand what they were doing,” said Maddie Nordtvedt, 14.
“When you are 16 you can work at a lot of places, you pay taxes, and you have societal responsibilities. Yes, I feel like they should be able to,” said Evan Johnson, 18.
“I feel like some kids should be a little bit older to be able to vote, a little more mature to understand the issues,” said Jessica Jones, 17. “But voting at 18, or even 17 would be perfectly fine.”
“It would definitely influence elections a bit, but I wonder about the maturity of 16-year-olds. I think some 16-year-olds are mature enough but I don’t think at 16 everyone is. Some people would be and some wouldn’t. I guess I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other,” said Anna Moholt, 16. Would Anna vote if she could “Yes, I would definitely vote,” she said. “ I think so many things that come up in elections that effect so many people, and often times you directly, that it’s important to have your input into what should be going on in the place where you live, be it state, county, or nation.”
“It could be a good idea but I feel like I don’t know much about the ballots right now. I think it would be cool to be able to vote. It could also be a lot of work because I feel like we don’t know what we’d be voting on, and we’d have to learn. We don’t have a class on those things. When we are seniors we have a “Modern Problems” class, but we don’t have one at our age,” said Claire Farwell, who just turned 16 last week.
If Senate Joint Resolution 22 passes both houses of the Oregon legislature, present voters, 18 and older, will have their say.