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Rep. Meng: Amend Constitution to Lower Voting Age to 16

The last constitutional amendment was passed in 1992

Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., announced Wednesday that she’s interested in lowering the voting age to 16. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., announced Wednesday that she’s interested in lowering the voting age to 16. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

New York Democratic Rep. Grace Meng introduced an amendment to the Constitution to lower the nationwide voting age to 16 years old.

The 26th Amendment — passed in 1971 — guarantees the right to vote to eligible citizens who are 18 years old or older, which shifted the voting age down from 21. Meng’s legislation would rewrite the amendment to include 16- and 17-year-olds in federal, state and local elections.

“I am a firm believer that we should empower our young people and that includes extending the right to vote for 16- and 17-year-olds,” Meng said in a news release. “Voting is a serious responsibly. But I believe that our youth are mature enough at these ages to responsibly cast a ballot.”

The recent upspringing of “inspirational and passionate activism” by high-school aged students, particularly on gun violence, health care and climate change, is evidence that the younger population is ready for the ballot box, she said.

Several U.S. jurisdictions currently allow residents to vote before they turn 18. The town of Takoma Park, Maryland, in 2013 became the first jurisdiction to allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections. Earlier this year, the D.C. Council considered legislation to lower the voting age to 16 for local and federal elections.

“16- and 17-year-olds are legally permitted to work and they pay federal income tax on their earnings,” Meng said. “They are legally permitted to drive motor vehicles, and if they commit crimes they are tried as adults. I think it is only fair to allow them the right to vote as well.”

If implemented, the amendment could open up the ballot box to high school-aged voters — a demographic that leans liberal and Democratic.

The amendment faces long odds. To pass Congress, the constitutional amendment needs a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate. Then, at least 38 state legislatures have to ratify it before it can take effect.

Proposals to amend the Constitution are not especially rare, but successful ones are. There have been at least 26 distinct amendments introduced in the 2017-2018 session alone, including amendments repealing the income tax, restricting the president’s pardon power or abolishing the Electoral College.

Not since 1992 has a proposed amendment been added to the Constitution.

That year, three states — Alabama, Missouri and Michigan — ratified an amendment originally passed by Congress in 1789 mandating that congressional wage increases cannot take effect until the next legislative session.

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