The campaign, called Vote16USA, which will be announced on Wednesday, aims to lower the voting age to 16 from 18 to spur civic engagement by younger Americans. But the push, by a nonpartisan group based in New York called Generation Citizen, which seeks to promote youth participation in politics, is igniting a debate about voter competency, adolescent decision making and whether allowing younger people to vote is the best way to politically engage teenagers.According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only about a quarter of 12th graders score proficient or advanced on civics. Granted, there are a variety of surveys showing that older people also have gaps in civic knowledge, but they learn certain things just by virtue of aging and joining the workforce. For instance, relatively few teens file tax returns; accordingly, they know little about government revenue. People who pay income taxes at least have a general idea of where the money comes from.
Opponents say that teenagers are not mature enough to vote at 16, that they will not make informed decisions and that Vote16USA is a partisan push to get more liberals on voter rolls. Advocates, however, argue that lowering the voting age would increase turnout, allow teenagers to weigh in on issues that directly affect them and push schools to improve civic education.
As for maturity, a perceptive statement comes from the majority opinion in Roper v. Simmons, which barred the death penalty for people under 18.
[As] any parent knows and as the scientific and sociological studies respondent and his amici cite tend to confirm, “[a] lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility are found in youth more often than in adults and are more understandable among the young. These qualities often result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions.” Johnson, supra, at 367; see also Eddings, supra, at 115—116 (“Even the normal 16-year-old customarily lacks the maturity of an adult”). It has been noted that “adolescents are overrepresented statistically in virtually every category of reckless behavior.” Arnett, Reckless Behavior in Adolescence: A Developmental Perspective, 12 Developmental Review 339 (1992). In recognition of the comparative immaturity and irresponsibility of juveniles, almost every State prohibits those under 18 years of age from voting, serving on juries, or marrying without parental consent. See Appendixes B—D, infra.