Happy Birthday. Here’s a ballot.

US Rep. Ayanna Presley (D. Mass.) proposed an amendment to the HR1 voting rights bill that would lower the federal voting age to 16. The proposal was supported by a majority of House Democrats and zero Republicans in a Wednesday vote, but failed to receive the necessary support to be added to the bill. While there are some good arguments for this proposal, they serve less to support the lowering of the voting age than the expansion of civic education.

Voting is a habit, and reinforcing this important habit starting in high school seems like a good place to start.”

It’s not fair to dismiss Congresswoman Pressley’s amendment on the grounds that its only purpose is to add more Democratic voters to the electorate, because of course it is. That’s how representative democracy works: it ensures that even the most self-serving of politicians will at least pretend to work in favor of a majority of the electorate in order to get reelected. If Democrats are in favor of expanding voting rights, then more Democrats being elected to office is hardly a bad thing. Let’s instead evaluate Congresswoman Pressley’s proposal just as we would evaluate any other policy proposal: by weighing its costs against its benefits.

Generally, the more people who can vote, the more democratic the system. After all, the decisions of elected representatives affect the lives of all those who live within a nation’s borders, not just white male landowners (the only group in the United States who could vote at the country’s founding). The gradual expansion of the electorate to encompass all adult citizens has been a positive change.

But that principle can’t be extrapolated to encompass citizens of all ages as well. While a black woman is just as capable of making a reasoned choice of who to vote for as a white man is, there is a fundamental developmental difference between children and adults (though, it should be said, not much of a difference between 16- and 18-year-olds).

However, arbitrarily marking one’s 18th birthday as the day they suddenly become capable of thoughtful decision-making is not a good enough justification for denying 16- and 17-year-olds the franchise. Rather, age 18 serves as a good benchmark for when most people become economically independent. It is an age when many begin to live on their own, handle their own finances, and be tried in adult court. It is a time of great cultural, if not necessarily psychological, significance.

A common argument for lowering the voting age to 16 years is that it serves as a form of civic education. Voting is a habit, and reinforcing this important habit starting in high school seems like a good place to start. However, teens needn’t actually vote in an election to gain educational benefits.

Schools, including SPA, can and should teach teens the importance of voting and how to walk into the booth as an informed voter. Part of HR1, which seems destined to pass both the House and Senate, allows people as young as 16 to register to vote in an election as soon as they turn 18, so walking through the real registration process in an educational setting is entirely possible. SPA needs to seize on the opportunity provided by HR1 to ensure that no student graduates unprepared to vote for their chosen candidate, no matter who that may be.