NYC?s Godzilla

July 25, 2005

Men won it in 1870. Women in 1920. Now, in 2005, the torch of suffrage has been rekindled by a new generation of activists: Teenagers want to vote.

Children?s PressLine, a New York City-based news service operated by young reporters and editors, is in a unique situation to cover the issue. In early June, Councilmember Gale Brewer, of Manhattan, introduced a bill that would allow the city's more than 200,000 16- and 17-year-olds to participate in local elections. If passed, the bill would make New York City the first in the nation to successfully welcome minors to the poll booths.

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Other cities have considered similar measures, but none have passed. So far, the youth suffrage movement's brightest moment has been Maine's approval of a bill that permits 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they turn 18 before the final election.

Like many 16-year-olds, Pamela Tatz, Vice President of the Berkeley, Calif. Chapter of the National Youth Rights Association, feels just as equipped as any 18-year-old to make informed political decisions. "What happens all of sudden when you're 18?" she asks. "Are you just randomly ready to vote?"

Adolescents across the United States turn now to New York City with fingers crossed. Children's PressLine interviewed several young suffrage activists, as well as Councilmember Brewer and local teens to get their reactions on the issue.

CPL: Why should the voting age be lowered?

Pamela Tatz, 16, National Youth Rights Association, Berkeley, Calif.: We live in America, and this is a democracy. When women wanted the right to vote, we told them they didn?t need to vote because their husbands would vote in their best interest. That?s what they?re telling us now, that our parents will vote in our best interest. But even if your parents have your best interest at heart, they?ll vote for what?s in their own best interest.

Heather Kelley, 17, Washington Voting Rights Society, Olympia, Wash.: Basically, it?s taxation without representation.

Jason Puz, 17, Washington Voting Rights Society, Olympia, Wash.: At the age of 16, teenagers are able to drive, which means they have IDs to verify who they are. At the age of 17, they can join the armed forces, and they can get married. Perhaps more importantly, they can be tried as adults for a serious crime. It?s a double standard when we are told, ?You?re not responsible enough to be able to vote, but you?re responsible enough to face the same penalties adults will.?

CPL: Okay, how would lowering the voting age benefit youth?

Here, CPL journalists, complete work on their ?NYC Kids React? youth suffrage article. Jason: It would benefit them because it gets them more active in their communities. Instead of feeling like prisoners who are forced to live there, by giving them a vote, you make sure they become connected with the people and the places where they live.

Zach Hobesh, 15, National Youth Rights Association, Berkeley, Calif.: Lowering the voting age would establish voting habits in people younger than 18. Eighteen-year-olds are graduating high school, they are moving away from home, going away to college. They don?t have time to register to vote and that is why many of them don?t. So if they lowered it to 16, you?d have a lot more people in the habit of voting.

CPL: But don?t you think some teenagers aren?t mature enough to vote?

Pamela: Well, you could say a lot of adults aren?t ready to vote either. When you?re 18, are you just randomly ready to vote? It?s not that simple. People say that 18, 19, and 20- year-olds don?t vote enough. What they?re not looking at is the big picture. If 16-year-olds could vote, they?d be in high school learning about politics and government, and they?re being given classes about voting, before they vote.

Jason: The Voting Rights Act states that if you?ve completed a sixth grade education at a private or public school in any state, territory, the District of Columbia, or the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, you possess sufficient literacy comprehension and intelligence to vote in any election.

CPL: Heather mentioned that this was taxation without representation. How does that applies here?

Pamela: Right now, teenagers pay $9.7 billion a year in sales taxes alone. That?s not even counting income tax. Eighty percent of teenagers in America work. That?s a lot of money going into the taxes that we have no say in where it goes or how much is taken from us.

CPL: Why do you think some people criticize this idea?

CPL journalists recently interviewed Councilmember Brewer on her commitment to youth suffrage.Anna Sweet, 17, Future Voters of America, New York City: Just stereotypes that youth don?t care and that we?re dumb. I know there?s one councilmember who wrote an article that said, ?Teenagers should pull up their pants before they go out to vote.? So because of our how we dress, we shouldn?t vote? It was annoying.

CPL: How do you think parents would influence their children?s voting decisions?

Pamela: A lot of adults vote the way their parents voted. It?s not just kids.

Heather: We have a lot of people telling us that teens will vote exactly like their parents vote, but then we also have people telling us that teens will vote exactly the opposite of their parents just to get back at them. I think that teens think for themselves and understand how their decisions affect others, and affect their future, and so they will vote for the candidate they feel are best.

Kehlen Sachet, 17, Washington Voting Rights Society, Olympia, Wash.: A vote is a vote, it doesn?t matter your reasoning or why, it?s yours, you can use it however you want. There is no wrong vote.

CPL: Should there be specific criteria for 16-year-olds who want to vote? For example, if they?re failing a class, should they be allowed to vote?
Pamela: I don?t think failing a class has anything to do with the right to vote. Adults who don?t have a job don?t have the right to vote taken away.

Jason: Schools that are poor, which generally have more students that are going to fail, will have less of a say in the government than rich schools that are passing more kids. That becomes unfair and puts kids in a situation where those that are less well-off will have less of a voice. That?s not at all how it should work. If anything, it should be the other way around.

CPL: If you had the ability to vote, would you vote Democrat or Republican?

Kehlen: That?s a difficult question. We don?t want this to turn into a party issue. It really affects everybody. It doesn?t matter if you?re Republican or Democrat.