High-schoolers deserve the right to vote

Maxwell C. Hall
Guest Columnist

The National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) is the largest youth-led organization within the United States that fights for youth rights. The NYRA focuses on issues such as voting age, emancipation, and drinking age.

With the upcoming elections on Nov. 6, the NYRA has made the right to vote its top priority. Because they work and pay taxes, youth need the right to vote in governmental elections.

Most 16- and 17-year-olds (80 percent, according to one survey) work at some point before they graduate.  This means they pay income taxes.

Paying taxes without a say in how the money is spent is a gross injustice. The Revolutionary War was fought on the premise that people should not be taxed if they are not fairly represented in government.

Teenagers under 18 also pay significant sales tax. IRS data show that youth pay an estimated $9.7 billion in taxes on items purchased.

Through their employers, 16-year-olds pay into the Social Security system. Yet they have no say in possible Social Security reforms.

Youth are treated like adults in many respects. In 48 states, 16-year-olds are allowed to drive. In many states, youth 16 or even younger are tried as adults for serious crimes.

If youth can be punished like adults, they should also be given the rights of adults.

High school students are more than qualified to vote. The Federal Voting Rights Acts of 1965 states that “any person who has not been adjudged an incompetent and who has completed the sixth grade . . . possesses sufficient literacy, comprehension, and intelligence to vote in any election.” If a sixth-grade education is adequate for voting purposes, certainly the 10th grade education most 16-year-olds possess is more than adequate.

Students who took the comprehensive We the People constitutional law program scored better than adults ages 18 to 80 in knowledge of government and politics.

Almost all of the students (96 percent) could name the Vice President, compared to 74 percent of adults 18 to 80. More students than adults understood judicial review, party ideology, and the two-thirds veto override requirement.

In her 1991 testimony before a Minnesota House subcommittee, 14-year-old Rebecca Tilsen had this to say: “If 16-year-olds are old enough to drink water polluted by the industries that you regulate, to breathe the air ruined by garbage burners that government built, to walk on the streets made unsafe by terrible drugs and crime policies, to live in poverty in the richest country in the world, to get sick in a country with the worst public health-care programs in the world, and to attend school districts that you underfund, then 16-year-olds are old enough to play a part in making them better.”

The just power of government comes from the consent of the governed.  As it stands now, youth are governed but are not able to consent. This is un-American. Like all tax-paying, law-abiding Americans, youth must be given the right to vote.

Maxwell C. Hall, Forest Lake, is a senior at Forest Lake High School. He is president of the Washington County chapter of the National Youth Rights Association