State should cut voting age down to 17

The nearly 500 pieces of legislation that have been introduced around the country this year aimed at increasing voter participation include proposals to lower the voting age from 18 to 17.

Pennsylvania should adopt that change, and the U.S. Constitution should be amended to permit the lower voting age nationwide.

Young people 17 years old probably are more attuned to what’s happening in all levels of government than they’ve ever been. Thus, they should have the right to express their opinion about who should be elected, for municipal offices up to the Office of the President.

When the U.S. Constitution’s 26th Amendment was under consideration in 1970 — to lower the voting age to 18 from 21 — some people argued that 18-year-olds weren’t mature and responsible enough to be allowed to vote.

Those arguments proved to be unfounded, just like similar arguments would be regarding extending voting to 17-year-olds.

Actually, 17-year-olds already can vote in primary elections and caucuses in a number of states. The organization FairVote, formerly the Center for Voting and Democracy, which advocates electoral reform in this country, reminds Pennsylvania that the closest states that have taken that step are Maryland, Ohio, Delaware and West Virginia.

Even 17-year-olds in the District of Columbia are permitted to vote in primaries. The important question: Why not in Pennsylvania?

An article in Sunday’s Mirror included an important quote from Jonathan Brater, counsel with the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice Democracy Program.

“A lot of young people last year wanted to make their voices heard but were unable to do so because the rules prohibited them,” he said. “That has certainly renewed interest in making the system more accessible.”

But then there’s the other issue of having people registered to vote when they have no desire to do so.

In June 2015, then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton proposed that Americans automatically be registered to vote when they turn 18, unless they chose to opt out, which many might not do, even though they have no intention of voting.

That proposal was welcomed by many of Clinton’s campaign audiences, but a closer look at automatic registration indicates some counterproductive consequences.

The most important is that voter-registration rolls shouldn’t be burdened by those who choose not to exercise the important civic right and responsibility. At the same time, it’s appropriate to remind all registered voters that, at the time they registered, they accepted an obligation to go to the polls — not only for general elections, but for primary balloting as well.

But Clinton’s proposal isn’t the answer to guaranteeing high turnouts. Pennsylvania already makes it easy to register, even without an automatic system of registration.

Many high school seniors still are 17 when they graduate, and it’s at that time when those newly graduated individuals have to make important decisions about their lives, going forward. Most demonstrate maturity and responsibility in those decisions and harbor an understanding of voting’s importance.

Most of those former students already have had some experience with elections, whether through mock balloting in government classes during presidential or gubernatorial years, or through voting so limited as choosing class leaders.

With so many electronic communication devices available, young people have access to news and issues that their parents lacked.

Lower the voting age to 17, in Pennsylvania and nationally.