By Dick Mason

The Observer

A push in State Legislature to change the voting age in Oregon from 18 to 16 years old is drawing mixed reaction in Northeast Oregon.

Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, is among the outspoken opponents of the drive.

“People are not legally considered adults in this country until they are 18,” Hansell said, noting in the United States, in most cases, you cannot enter into contracts, own firearms, get married, enlist in the military or own land until you are 18.

“They (16-year-olds) are not deemed mature enough and old enough (to do any of these things). They are teenagers, they are children,” Hansell said. “Yet, in light of all that, we want to give them the tremendous privilege and responsibility of voting. It (would be) a huge mistake.”

The lower voting age debate is being sparked by state Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland. Fagan introduced a measure Monday calling for the state’s voting age to be lowered from 18 to 16. Fagan is proposing a change to the Oregon Constitution. If lawmakers pass the measure, it would then be sent to voters, who would have a chance to make this the only state where 16-year-olds can vote.

La Grande High School history teacher John Lamoreau supports the measure Fagan introduced.

“First of all, I have found that many of the students I have taught of this age care about their communities and are incredibly motivated to make their communities better. I know too many people of current voting age who do not vote at all. If we have citizens who care, by all means, let’s give them have the opportunity to vote” he said. “If we give 16-year-olds the privilege of driving a motor vehicle, let’s give them the privilege of casting a ballot.”

LHS students who also support Fagan’s measure include Kael Bartlett, a junior.

“I’m down for that (allowing 16-year-olds to vote). There are a lot of things we could say, but we cannot (because we can’t vote),” Bartlett said.

Palama Cooke, a LHS senior, said she believes 16-year-olds should be able to vote on issues and candidates that will impact them later in life. She cited presidential races and measures addressing climate change as examples.

LHS junior Alex Larvik, who turned 17 less than a week ago, thinks allowing 16-year-olds to vote “is a bad idea.”

He said that 16-year-olds often do not have the judgment necessary to make sound decisions as voters.

LHS senior Ashley Martinez voiced a similar sentiment.

“I don’t think (16-year-olds) are old enough to understand what is going on,” Martinez said.

LHS social studies teacher Josh White said he recently asked the students in two of his history classes what they thought about allowing 16-year-olds to vote.

“The vast majority thought it was a bad idea,” he said.

The LHS teacher said a number of students believed they would be too influenced by their parents when voting. Some said they would be afraid their parents would be upset with them if they voted for a candidate from a party different than the one their parents are members of.

Larry Morrison, a former science teacher who taught for more than 30 years, including two decades at La Grande High School, believes 16-year-olds are not quite ready to vote.

“I think that 16 is just a touch too young. They are more impressionable and more influenced by peer pressure,” he said.

He describes 18 as the perfect age to begin voting.

“Voting is a serious issue. It needs deep thought,” said Morrison, who served on Island City’s city council about three years before stepping down last summer when he moved to Baker City.

Randy Knop, an active community volunteer in Union who is also vice chair of the Union County Democrats, is all for making the democratic process more accessible, yet he said it would be unfortunate if Fagan’s proposed change becomes law.

“I support the expansion of voting rights, but lowering the voting age to 16 would seem to be ill advised. Sixteen is not an age of accountability,” he said.

On the plus side, Knop said, he likes the idea that the measure will get people talking about voting.

“I certainly welcome the discussion,” he said.

Colleen MacLeod, a member of the Union County Republicans, did not hesitate when asked her opinion on the proposal to lower the voting age.

“It is ridiculous,” said MacLeod, a former Union County Commissioner who lives in Summerville.

MacLeod, a business owner, said teenagers are still evolving when they are 16 and that after high school they often change significantly.

“People (are still in) high school when they are 16,” said MacLeod, adding that many 16-year-olds are not informed politically and need more life experiences before they are ready to vote.

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer