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Nebraska lawmaker wants to lower voting age to 16

October 25, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A state senator wants to lower the Nebraska voting age to 16, saying today’s 16-year-olds are fully capable of helping other voters choose people to represent them in state and local offices.

“Voting is a habit,” Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart said at a legislative forum Wednesday in Lincoln. “I think we do ourselves a disservice by not starting that habit at 16.”

She intends to propose a state constitutional amendment next year that would make the age 16 if it were passed by the Legislature and approved by voters. It would apply only to state and local elections, she said.

The idea for a lower voting age came to her after a conversation with a German woman who had been voting since she was 16 and, as a result, Wishart said, was “so much more engaged and informed than I was about local politics” at a similar age.

The 33-year-old senator wasn’t certain about the idea initially, she said. But she got more comfortable after talking with neuroscientists. They told her 16-year-olds can make informed voting decisions even if they are not mature enough to be held to the same level of adult responsibility for crimes.

Studies of adolescents show that the parts of the brain responsible for rational decision-making mature around age 16.

Sixteen-year-olds are allowed to vote in Germany’s municipal elections; the voting age is 18 for other elections. Nebraska 17-year-olds may vote in primary elections if they will turn 18 before the general election.

Three cities in Maryland allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections. Sixteen-year-olds in Berkeley, California, may vote only in school board elections. A California law provides for preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds when they get driver’s licenses.

The voting age was lowered nationally to 18 from 21 in 1971.

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