Like data? New numbers from the Colorado presidential primary election on Super Tuesday show why age 18 is NOT the best time to begin voting if we want people to vote in their first election, building the habit.
This year, for the first time, Colorado allowed 17-year-olds to vote in the primary if they will be 18 by the time of the general election. Some numbers:
• Turnout among registered 17 year olds: 45%
• Overall turnout for all ages: 45%
• Turnout for 18-34 year olds: 30%
17-year-olds who were eligible and registered to vote voted at a HIGHER RATE than young adults in general. What’s different about 17 year olds? Most are in high school, living in communities where they have roots, and are supported by family and educators. Voting is a HABIT. Voting in your first election is critical to establishing that habit.
All the 18-34 year olds who stayed home (70% of them!) encountered their first election at age 18 or 19, a time of major life transition. A terrible time to start the habit, and it shows. Time will tell whether this year’s 17-year-olds continue voting in future elections. The research says they will, and future turnout for 18-34 year olds will be higher because of it. This longitudinal effect has been observed in countries around the world that vote at 16.
An even stronger effect on long term voter turnout, however, will come from lowering the voting age to 16, starting with local elections, to ensure all young people get the chance to build the habit of voting when they are best positioned to do so. With elections every two years, voting at 16 would give nearly every young person the opportunity to vote one time while rooted in their home community, when they are most likely to cast that first ballot and become a habitual, lifelong voter.