This California teenager is fighting to lower her town’s voting age to 16
As It Happens6:08This California teenager is fighting to lower her town’s voting age to 16
Ada Meighan-Thiel, 17, spends her free time knocking on doors and advocating for a ballot initiative she is not allowed to vote on.
The high school student is the lead proponent of Measure VY — also known as Vote 16 — a measure on Tuesday’s ballot that would lower the voting age from 18 to 16 in her hometown of Culver City, California.
If she succeeds, Culver City will become one of only a handful of U.S. municipalities where people under the age of 18 can vote in city and school board elections. And Meighan-Thiel hopes he won’t be the last.
“Culver City just has the potential to become a national leader in youth civic engagement,” she said As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. “Really, this is just the beginning of empowering our teenagers.”
The Case for Lowering the Voting Age
Meighan-Thiel says her main reasons for wanting to lower the voting age are threefold.
“For me, it kind of boils down to encouraging civic engagement and really instilling the value of democratic participation in our youth,” she said.
“And that’s how a generation of ordinary voters will be raised – so people who really understand the importance of having their say at the ballot box, and who will be well-informed, lifelong voters in the future.
“And then the third reason is just the increased attention paid to our local elections, because politics is important, even if it’s not always fun to engage in.”
Teenagers are affected by the government’s problems, so they deserve to have a say in what’s going on.– Ada Meighan-Thiel, lower voting age advocate
He spends his free time going door to door pleading his case. Reactions are divided, she says, and she expects Tuesday’s vote to be close.
“Sometimes we have people who are really supportive, who are inspired by the work they’re doing and excited about their kids who might be able to vote when they turn 16,” she said.
“But we also have people who are more hesitant and say, ‘Oh, well, when I was 16, I wouldn’t have been a good voter. So I don’t think you would have been a good voter either.’
Meighan-Thiel doesn’t mind. She says people’s opinions about the voting age are not as deeply rooted as they are about other issues, such as abortion. Often, he says, a 20-minute conversation with a skeptical voter is enough to change their mind or at least open up.
“This is not an election with training wheels”
But there is fervent opposition to the proposal, and not everyone is swayed so easily.
Steven Gourley — a former Culver City mayor, councilman and school board president — led the charge against the measure.
“This is not an election with training wheels so your kids can ‘warm up’ for the BIG election,” Gourley wrote on his website No On VY.
In the official city form in which his opposition is highlightedwrote: “The proponents of this measure want you to approve 16 and 17 year old voting in this election. What will they want you to approve NEXT election? Their next goal is to allow people who DO NOT LIVE in Culver City to vote in Culver City. After that they plan to ask you to allow illegal aliens to vote in Culver City, as they currently can in New York City.”
Gourley did not respond to a request for comment As It Happens.
Meighan-Thiel says it’s Gourley’s right to oppose the measure, but disagrees with his arguments.
When asked if teenagers are mature enough to vote, she points to that a 2019 study published by the National Institutes of Health on the cognitive capacity of adolescents.
The researchers found that “cold cognition”—the ability to make rational, usually long-term decisions without being overly influenced by emotion—tends to reach its capacity by age 16.
In contrast, “hot cognition”—making decisions in the moment in “charged situations where deliberation is unlikely or difficult”—does not fully develop until early adulthood.
The study cites voting as an activity related to cold cognition, noting that the process gives young people enough time to make rational, informed decisions, potentially with adult guidance.
Meighan-Thiel also dismissed the idea that young people will vote exclusively for progressive or left-wing causes and candidates.
“Teenagers are not just one voting block that will only support progressive causes,” she said.
In fact, she says her peers aren’t even united on the Vote 16 measure.
“That’s another reason why teenagers should be able to vote, because they think individually and uniquely about the political issues that affect them,” she said.
But even if teenagers are swaying to the left compared to older generations, she says that’s no reason to keep them in the polls.
“We shouldn’t be trying to block people from voting because they’re worried they won’t be supportive of conservative council members,” she said.
“Really, we need to make sure that their policies serve the whole city, including teenagers. Because teenagers are affected by government issues, so they should deserve to have a say in what’s going on.”
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