Why Can't Kids Vote?

Oct 9, 2020

Election Day in the United States, where But Why is based, is officially November 3rd this year. But more Americans than usual are voting in advance this time around. All the news about the presidential election has kids asking questions.

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So in this episode we're going to tackle a few, like why we've never had a woman president, why kids can't vote, and why Republicans are called Republicans and Democrats are called Democrats. We're joined by journalist Erin Geiger Smith, author of Thank You For Voting, which also has a young readers edition.

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Erin Geiger Smith
Credit Melanie Dunea

Geiger Smith says the federal voting age of 18 is actually not the way it's always been.

"When the country first started and all the way to 1971, you actually had to be 21 to vote," she tells us. "But because people who were 18 could join the armed forces and perhaps even go to war, and because 18 year olds, at the point were finishing high school, they actually had more education level than some of the older people in the country because  our education system had gotten better."
 

And so a change was made to the US Consitution to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. Geiger Smith says this Constitutional amemendment was ratified, or approved, in record time. In some states, people who are 17 can vote in a presidential primary if they'll be 18 before the election. Some states let people pre-register to vote at 16 so they're ready to go when they turn 18.

But even though children are still not allowed to vote, that doesn't mean they can't get involved in politics. Geiger Smith says they can encourage adults around them to vote and then ask their adults to explain who they're voting for and why. Kids can also help research candidates and explain to the adults in their lives what issues are important to them, and which candidates might support those priorities.

Geiger Smith says kids can also get involved at the local level, speaking up at school board meetings or town and city council meetings. And if they want to hold elected positions themselves, getting involved in student government at school is a great way to start.

"You need to think about the issues that are important to you and ask a grown up how you can get involved," encourages Geiger Smith. And with so many people voting by mail this year, now is a great time for kids to sit down with adults to learn more about voting right at the kitchen table.

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