- Do you think 12 year olds should be allowed to vote?
- Absolutely not.
- 12 year olds should not yet be allowed to vote.
- Generally, 12 yer olds are easier to be manipulated.
- 12 might be a little young, but they're probably smarter than I am.
- If they pass a test I don't know.
- Okay can we scratch that.
- I do believe young people really have an interest in politics and they deserve to be heard.
- If they are allowed to vote, what are they allowed to vote on?
- Maybe 16.
Maybe, I could see that as a possibility.
- I'm Toussaint Morrison, a writer, actor and musician living in Minnesota.
And in 1776, when the United States was founded it would have been illegal for me to vote.
In fact the only people who could vote were white males who owned land.
And those white males, could not be Jewish Catholic or Quakers.
Because all those religions were barred as well.
Thankfully this is not the case today and that's because as most of you know over the past 240 plus years, access to the polls has been slowly but steadily expanding.
For example, by 1830, property ownership and religious restrictions were largely eliminated.
In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment at least on paper gave African American men the right to vote.
Although many states, spent years denying this right.
1920, the 19th Amendment made it legal for women to vote and in 1971, the 26th amendment granted 18 year olds, the right to vote.
These are just a few landmark examples.
Overall, the trend in this country is moving towards greater inclusion and access.
You can even visualize this increase, by graphing the percentage of the total population that's voted in presidential elections since the nation's founding.
And when you look at this chart, it's interesting to think about where this trajectory make take us in the future.
For example, if we were to build America from scratch today, would we?
As we asked earlier, let 12 year olds vote?
- I don't think that 12 year olds should be allowed to vote.
- Sounds like a silly question, but remember back in 1776, it sounded silly to let someone like myself who wasn't a white male that owned land be able to vote.
- Oh you're going to a place I didn't go.
- Turns out, that right here in Minnesota one of the states longest serving former lawmakers state representative Phyllis Kahn, spent several decades trying to expand voting rights to young people.
Here she is, in 1989, making her case that 12 year olds should vote.
- Representative Kahn, you shared a vision of the House Appropriations Committees, degrees from Harvard and Yale.
And I think some people might say this can't be a serious proposal.
- It certainly is a serious proposal Eric.
I came to it from listening to the proposals for children's gender and children's plan, and I realized that there was one missing plank in all those platforms and that's the empowerment of children to help set their own agenda.
I think history has shown us that when a segment of society is denied the right to vote the rights, all the rights of that segment of society are then inferior.
- So here is what we know.
The generalized trend in this country is toward a greater voting access.
Some policy makers are already thinking that young people are the next natural step.
Maybe a good next step for us, is to ask these young people themselves what do they think about this - My name is Toussaint Morrison and I'm going to be asking you some questions about voter rights and if you think that 12 year olds should have the right to vote.
Here is like the mic rules, so like you're not a rapper, do not hold it like this.
If you were able to vote, do you think there would be more discrimination towards people that are your age or less discrimination?
- I feel like there would be slightly more discrimination because our opinion would make a larger statement, and it would last longer.
- And you think adults would be like, wow this is really screwed up now.
- These 12 year olds screwed it up.
- Representative Kahn's basic premise was pretty simple if you can't vote, you can't defend your rights.
- Another lawmaker serving at the time was state senator Fritz Knaak.
- The context back then as I recall it, was that there was a lot of discussion about protecting children.
About protecting families.
It was part of a, these things kind of surged nationally.
Phyllis Kahn, whose point was this is all well and good.
But the debate is really among professionals and is anybody really paying attention to the kids?
- Do you think everybody that is above 18 has knowledge of who they're voting for?
- I'm 35, and I've seen some people around my age still make some pretty uneducated decisions.
- Actually men's brains don't start developing until they're about 39.
- So my brain is still developing?
- Today Phyllis Kahn is no longer in office, but she does still care about the issue.
She even remembers why she chose 12 as the age to start voting.
- Right at about that time, I'd seen a government notice that went out saying that all government documents were prepared to a 7th grade reading level.
I said oh, someone has already decided that that's the proper age of comprehension.
So therefore, 12 year olds should be able to vote if they can read government documents.
- Raise your hand if you believe that 12 year olds should be able to vote.
Raise your hands if you would vote the way your parents vote.
Okay so now we're getting some.
Now we're getting some.
- I think, I wouldn't vote like them because everyone have a different opinion on certain things.
- One of the things that was sort of interesting is that the arguments that were made and I put them side by side, at one point.
Almost exactly the same as the arguments that were made to not give women suffrage.
They will just vote the way their husbands tell them to.
They're not educated enough.
They don't think enough about these serious issues.
And if you put them side by side, the arguments were just almost exactly the same.
- And she's right.
Those arguments do parallel very closely to arguments, not just about women, but about blacks, about other minorities, all of that.
Now they can't really vote, which mad it all the more irritating of course.
Because you're just being a bigot, no, I'm trying to be commonsensical here.
- If you're saying that 12 year olds cannot make intelligent decisions.
I think that that's true.
That some 12 year olds cannot.
As some 20 year olds cannot.
Some 40 year olds cannot.
And some 90 year olds cannot.
- [Protesters] End gun violence.
- [Toussaint] The question of voting age is taken on new urgency as teenagers from Stoneman Douglas High school in Florida, take the lead on an international political movement.
After a mass shooting at the school left 17 people dead.
Young people across the country and the world have staged town halls, walk outs and marches to call attention to gun laws and gun violence.
- [Protesters] This is what democracy looks like.
- [Protester] Tell me what democracy looks like?
- [Protesters] This is what democracy looks like.
- [Toussaint] One of these walkouts was spearheaded by Lane Murdock a high school sophomore in Connecticut.
In her petition Lane says that students lack of voting rights inspired them to mobilize.
This begs the question Phyllis Kahn has been asking all along.
How would our country be different if these young people could vote.
And is it a country we want to live in?
- Last thing, raise your hand if you think schools would look different if you all were able to vote right now.
- Thank you.
- And there you have it.
Everybody has an opinion.
What do you think?
Do you think this trend will continue towards greater access or do you think letting young people vote is a bad idea.
Share your thoughts.
And please do subscribe.
I'm Toussaint Morrison.
This is American From Scratch, thanks for joining us.
Hey everybody, this is Toussaint.
In our next episode we're going to discuss if we made America from Scratch today, would we even have states.
So if you have an opinion and you want it to be heard submit a video response and the link in the description below.