Legislators have proposed a bill that would amend Oregon’s state constitution to make the change. Should the bill pass, the proposal would go to voters in 2020.
"It's time to lower the voting age in Oregon and give young people a chance to participate at the ballot about decisions that affect their homes, their clean air and clean water future, their schools, and as we've seen, their very lives," said Sen. Shemia Fagan (D-Portland), one of the bill's sponsors, in a press conference Monday.
In justifying the change, Fagan pointed to the activism of a group of Parkland, Florida, students who have been challenging lawmakers to change gun laws in the wake of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead.
Natalie Khalil, a senior at Lake Oswego High School in Oregon who has been organizing for gun reform, said lowering the voting age would "create lifelong voters," CNN reported.
The bill isn’t without its opponents. Some critics say 16- and 17-year-olds are too young to weigh in on important decisions by voting.
"16-year-olds are too young to enlist in the military, too young to own firearms, too young to own property, too young to enter into legal contracts, and too young to get married. But they are old enough to vote? People are not legally considered adults in this country until they are 18 years old, and I believe they shouldn't be able to vote until then either," said Oregon Senate Republican leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. in a statement. "This is nothing more than an attempt to expand the voter rolls to sway elections."
The last time the voting age changed in the U.S. was in 1971 with the ratification of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. The 26th Amendment doesn’t prohibit states from lowering the voting age.
The Washington, D.C. suburb of Tacoma Park, Maryland, was the first U.S. city to drop the voting age to 16, CNN reported. Registered 16- and 17-year-olds subsequently had a 44 percent voter turnout in the next election, said Brian Conner, president of the National Youth Rights Association.