At What Age Can My Teenager Vote?

Teens Can Vote at 18 and Can Register at 17

Students holding buttons at voter registration
Getty Images/Ariel Skelley

In the United States, young adults must be 18 years old in order to vote in most government elections. Teens may be eligible to vote or register as early as 17 in some states.

The U.S. Voting Age

In most states, the voting age is 18-years-old. Teenagers are encouraged to register to vote around their 18th birthday.

This will ensure that they are registered in time to vote in the next election. It is a good way for parents to encourage civic responsibility in their teens.

Registering to Vote

A teen in the U.S. is able to register to vote in the year that they will turn 18.

  • Voter registration forms can generally be found in your state department offices.
  • Many states now offer online registration.

17-Year-Olds and Primary Elections

There are some states that allow a 17-year-old to participate in primary elections and caucuses if they will turn 18 on or before election day.

The presidential race is the most popular primary election. Many states also have primaries for congress and governor elections as well.

As of 2016, states that allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections and caucuses include: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The District of Columbia also allows 17-year-old voting.

However, in Alaska, Hawaii, Washington and Wyoming, 17-year-olds are only allowed to vote in the Democratic party elections. This can change, so check with your local party office for the current requirements.

The History of the U.S. Voting Age

Prior to 1971, American citizens needed to be 21 in order to vote.

Congress passed the 26th Amendment to the Constitution in March of that year, states quickly ratified it and President Richard M. Nixon signed it into law in July 1971.

The argument for lowering the legal voting age from 21 to 18 began during World War II. Many argued that if young men could be drafted to fight in a war, they should be able to vote. This argument came back into the spotlight during the Vietnam War for the same reason.

Today, many youth rights activists argue that the voting age should be lowered to 17, or even 16. Among the arguments for this change, is that it will give teenagers a chance to become involved in politics early and create lifetime voters.

The Voting Age in Other Countries

The United States is not alone in requiring citizens to be 18 to cast a vote. The majority of countries in the world also have an 18-year-old voting age.

Austria, Brazil, Cuba, and Nicaragua are among countries that allow 16-year-olds to vote. A handful of countries allow 17-year-olds to vote and in a few it is limited to those over 20 or 21.

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