Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Thursday that the voting age should be lowered to 16 years old, telling reporters on Capitol Hill, “I think it’s really important to capture kids when they are in high school when they are interested in all of this, when they are learning about government, to be able to vote.”
Pelosi was defending H.R. 1, the “For the People Act,” which Democrats say will boost voting rights and reform government — and which Republicans say would enable voter fraud and tilt the scales for Democrats.
As USA Today noted, the House actually defeated an amendment to the bill by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) that would have lowered the age for voting to 16 in federal elections. The vote was 305-126 against the idea.
However, H.R. 1 allows states to begin registering 16-year-olds to vote when they reach the legal age of 18.
— Joel B. Pollak (@joelpollak) March 14, 2019
As Roll Call noted: “Republicans have attacked the provision as adding new risks of voting fraud in case the underage crowd tried to vote prematurely. But Democratic supporters argue it’s a convenient way to sign up future voters.”
The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 by the 26th Amendment in 1971, during the Vietnam War, when the military draft became controversial and soldiers were being sent to fight (and die) before they could vote.
Children can vote in primary elections at the age of 17 in twenty-three states and the District of Columbia — usually, if they will turn 18 by the time of the general election in November of a given election year. Voters in Pelosi’s home city of San Francisco defeated a referendum in 2016 to lower the local voting age to 16. Across the San Francisco Bay, in Berkeley, 16-year-olds can vote in elections for the local public school board.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which often sides with Democrats, has also criticized H.R. 1 for some of its restrictions on political speech, writing to Congress that the legislation could “unconstitutionally burden the speech and associational rights of many public interest organizations and American citizens” and “chill speech essential to our public discourse.”