Youth Demand a Voice and a Vote

youth vote!The last decade was the worst decade for youth in our collective national memory. Despite a great increase in wealth, the public lashed out at our teenage minority in what has grown to be a national hysteria. Curfew laws restricted movement, dress codes silenced individuality, zero-tolerance polices made crimes out of trench coats and saying "bang," and boot camps emerged as prisons where those who resisted were sent. Against all evidence to the contrary, the public readily accepted Columbine shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris as stereotypes of an entire generation. Despite a plummeting rate of youth crime and a skyrocketing rate of youth volunteerism, the 90s saw an anti-teen witchhunt that is persisting even now into the next decade. Tired of no respect, many youth are determined not to let the last decade repeat itself.

As our society is a republic, power stems from voting. Politicians listen to those who vote, they respect those who vote. Why is it that in the last decade state governments have begun to take away driving privileges from youth and not from the equally dangerous elderly population? Because seniors vote, youth don't. Why is it that politicians fight to provide the best medical benefits and handouts to seniors while stealing funds from education? Because seniors vote, students don't.

To turn back this attack on youth rights, young people under 18 are now demanding a voice and a vote.

In preparation for the next elections, the movement to lower the voting age across the country is gaining steam. On May 17, a rally of teens and adults was held in Takoma Park, Maryland to kick off a campaign to lower the voting age in the city to 16. This campaign, led by local high school students and area non-profits, seeks to be the first to successfully lower a municipal voting age to 16 for local elections. Last year the city council in Cambridge, Massachusetts passed an ordinance lowering the voting age to 17 for local elections. Local youth groups in North Dakota and Texas are busy working on the issue in their areas as well.

The success of any or all of these campaigns may spawn similar campaigns in cities and states all across the nation.



Granting youth the right to vote will confer upon them the respect from lawmakers that they deserve.

The chief concern among skeptics is that young people are not mature or intelligent enough to vote properly. While this is a legitimate concern, I wonder why these same concerns have not been raised among adult voters. There are no tests, no qualifications, no restrictions to prevent certain adults from voting incorrectly. In the 2000 election, elderly Florida Democrats accidentally voted for right-winger Pat Buchanan rather than Vice President Al Gore. Yet, no one called for disenfranchising older voters, and rightly so. What, I wonder, would be so wrong with affording this same respect to young voters under 18?

I have the utmost confidence that the average 16 year old has as much sense and intellect to cast as valid and informed a ballot as the average 40 year old. We just have to give them the chance.

When a petitioner knocks on your door in North Dakota to put language on the ballot to lower the voting age to 16, please sign it. When your Texan legislature is asked to consider lowering the voting age, please support it. And when the Youth Rights Movement reaches your town, wherever you may be, please support the struggle we have begun.

Alex Koroknay-Palicz, 21, is president and executive director of the National Youth Rights Association.
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