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Increasing Student Political Engagement by Lowering the Voting Age



In recent years, the American democratic process has come under intense scrutiny as polarization and public cynicism have combined to highlight its dysfunctionality. In Montgomery County, the number of students involved in advocacy has risen, but there is still much to be desired in the overall fraction of the student population. It must be recognized that widespread civic engagement is one of the only solutions to this domestic chaos. Furthermore, leaders must recognize what is both a key issue and opening: the participation of students in the political process. Young people in the United States vote at significantly lower rates; according to a New York Times report about the 2020 election, when the youth turnout data from 24 nations was analyzed, the US had the fifth-lowest youth turnout and the fourth-largest gap between youth and overall turnout. The two main questions are: why is this important and what can be done?

The primary reason young people, defined as ages 18 to 29, do not vote is a lack of habit formation. Voting is a habit, and initial registration being difficult makes the formation and solidification of this habit harder. Many potential voters simply lack information: how and when should they register? What is on a ballot? Where and how do they vote? To register to vote in Maryland, one must be a US citizen, Maryland resident, and at least 16 years old. However, this information is not made widely available for students. The MCPS website does not provide any guidance, and only a limited number of high schools have information on their respective websites about voting; this leaves many students completely unaware of the opportunity to pre-register. This needs to change.

Going beyond helping students enter the national arena of politics, however, more can and should be done to directly engage them in the political process, specifically in local elections. The Board of Education in MCPS sets goals, establishes policies, and determines the operations of every school in the county, but students have extremely limited say in these decisions that affect their day-to-day lives. The Student Member of the Board is an extremely important asset for students, but they individually still have the right to influence change in more active ways. This can be done by lowering the voting age for the Board of Education to 16. This move would certainly not be without precedent. On Feb. 4, 2021, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) announced that she had reintroduced legislation in the House of Representatives to lower the voting age in the US to 16 years old. Additionally, Maryland state law allows cities to lower the voting age on the local level through a city council vote. Using this, five Maryland cities, including Takoma Park and Hyattsville, have already extended municipal voting rights to 16- and 17 year-olds. Combining registration support with a lower voting age will help MCPS students form a lifelong habit of voting.

Although this solution may seem radical to some, the lack of support the Board of Education has shown for students and their voices in the past demonstrates the need for it. For example, in December of 2021, many students were calling for the Board to close schools to keep students safe in light of the spread of Omicron, but they decided to keep schools open and recommend other safety measures, such as masking and social distancing, that were not realistic and did not stop the rapid spread of the variant. This response demonstrated how the Board’s decisions do not always reflect the sentiments of the students, even in the most critical times. It cannot be denied that the students directly affected by the Board’s decisions deserve a voice equal to the adults in the county who vote for the Board. Students are the priority of the Board and should be able to vote for the candidates who they feel best represent them. Furthermore, the Maryland towns that have lowered their voting ages have seen great success. Since Takoma Park allowed 16 and 17-year-olds to vote, voter turnout has gone from 10.1% in 2013 to 53.7% in the 2020 elections. An overwhelming 69% of 16- and 17-year-olds showed up, which was the largest turnout of any age demographic. Enacting this change in Montgomery County would not be in vain.

Montgomery County has many student advocacy organizations that advocate for a variety of issues, from composting to LGBTQ+ rights. However, there is a limit on what student advocates can do: they can testify and lobby elected officials to create progress, but the barrier of not being able to influence who sits in those elected seats is high. By allowing students to feel like their voices truly matter, students will be more likely to engage in their civic duties. Additionally, for MCPS high school students, taking a US Government class is mandatory for graduation. However, they often lack opportunities to apply what they learn in their classroom to their lives, which greatly diminishes the potential of this class. Data shows that students learn best by doing. Researchers have found through various studies that students who had hands-on lessons instead of textbook-based lessons ended with “a deeper understanding”. Lowering the voting age to 16 will bring classroom principles to the next level, hold the Board of Education more accountable to students, and set up the high school students of MCPS for a lifetime of civic engagement.



Works Cited


Ash, Katie. "Hands-On Learning Vs. Lecturing." Education Week, January 30, 2009. https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/hands-on-learning-vs-lecturing/2009/01.

Elections, Maryland State Board of. “Introduction.” Voter Registration Introduction, The Maryland State Board of Elections, https://elections.maryland.gov/voter_registration/index.html.

“Maryland.” Vote16 USA, https://vote16usa.org/project/maryland/.

“Meng Reintroduces Legislation to Lower the Voting Age in America to 16 Years Old.” Congresswoman Grace Meng, 23 Feb. 2021, https://meng.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/meng-reintroduces-legislation-to-lower-the-voting-age-in-america-to-16.

Symonds, Alexandria. “Why Don't Young People Vote, and What Can Be Done about It?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Oct. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/08/upshot/youth-voting-2020-election.html.



Written by Ha-Yeon Jeon & Nina Atrokhov

Written by Educational Policy Department

Published by PR Department


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