Editor's Note: In order to promote interest in youth suffrage, Brattleboro Common Sense recently held an essay contest. Submissions were sent to the Reformer, and the editorial board read and ranked them. The top submission received a $500 cash reward. Congratulations to everyone who sent a submission.

This is the runner-up:

Voting is the most, and perhaps the only, essential part of a democracy, or a constitutional republic, and as such, is one of the main rights guaranteed to a citizen within itself. A democracy exists to reflect the will of its people. Yet, throughout the history of democracy, numerous people within a democracy have been denied this basic right on the grounds of race, gender, and literacy. We've all heard of these atrocities, and they have been dealt with.

We presume ourselves to be the pinnacle of a modern democracy, a fully formed system that has learned from it's mistakes and evolved into an ideal state for all. Yet, that is simply not the case. A group that is increasingly affected by policy enacted by those politicians voted into office, yet denied the right to actually vote into or out of office, is those teenagers under the age of 18. You know the ones. The teenagers that can drive, work, pass the same literacy test as you or me, but cannot actually participate in the voting process. To some, it is completely sensible that these people are denied to their basic rights. To others, it is a horrid atrocity. I lean towards the latter principle.

Foremost, when reflecting on an issue such as this, a common phrase used by advocates of this action is that the opponents are "living in the past." However, I propose that "living in the past" is not the problem at all. The problem is being stuck in the present. Essentially, we as a society tend to look to the here and the now, and the immediate effects of an action rather than the future implications of it. This is almost ironic, considering that this is the stereotype which is applied to youths in order to justify denying them the right to vote and have a voice in their government.

In this way, we as a nation are youthful. In times of struggle and strife, we have always been able to find relatively shorter this m solutions that only effect the immediate generation. The New Deal served as a solution to the Great Depression, and it only affected the immediate generation for a fairly short amount of time, as did World War II. However, this is simply not the case anymore. Short-term problems requiring short-term solutions such as an cyclical economic slump, a war against another nation rather than an ideology, a higher crime rate, or building infrastructure are things of the past.

We are now being faced with increasingly large problems that will require solutions that take an increasingly large amount of time to implement. As the ratio of workers to retirees drastically falls, as the deficit catastrophically rises, as the anti-American sentiment around the world increases, as the American dream becomes just that, a dream, we will see that a simple policy change here, a tax deduction there, won't be enough.

We as a youth are the first generation to see America begin to lose its status as a world superpower, to begin to lose its hegemony. The things our forebears took for granted, we are starting to see slip away. To avoid this, or at least prepare for it, this country will have to implement long-term changes. Why does this matter to the youth? Simply put, as the implementation of the attempted solutions happen, the youth will age into the backbone of the American economy. The solutions, or lack thereof won't effect those who are rolling around in their graves by the time the law rolls around, rather it will harm those who were young when the seniors in Congress were hatching up the plot in the first place. If those a policy effects do not have a say in what the policy would actually be, then there is a drastic future indeed.

This drastic future is called generational theft, where the current generation in power dumps all of its problems on the next, while the people who will become the next generation are left without a say at all. There is one way to avoid this theft, this inequity: Simply lower the voting age. Allow 16 year olds who will soon be forced to fight the wars abroad decide for themselves whether the cause of the war is worth it at all. Let the next wave of part-time workers who are currently 16 decide what the minimum wage should be. Let the 16 year olds who will grow up to pay the taxes necessary to balance the budget decide how much the government should spend. In short, let democracy run its course.

Letting democracy run its course. Seems simple enough, right? Wrong. In our nation, we have a widely spread practice called gerrymandering, in which the voting laws instilled by the current powers aren't actually in place to make the process more legitimate, or efficient, but instead used to give one party statistical favor over the other. This is one of the primary issues with affecting the voting process. I therefore submit that although many youthful voters might be liberal, that is not the reason we should be allowing them to vote. Anyone who believes that we should change the voting system simply to give one party favor, be it through Voter I.D laws or changing the age, is missing the point of this essay. Giving people the right to vote isn't about the political effects of it, or how said people may cast their ballots. Giving people the right to vote should be done because it is an inherent right of the citizenry that a government effects to be able to maintain checks and balances upon the governance.

Since the effects of the aforementioned attempts at solutions will be primarily felt by those considered to young to vote at the time of their enactment, it means that one of two things must be done: Either change the solution, or lower the voting age. Some would say to simply change the solution, but the only motivation a politician has to change is responsibility to their constituents. Therefore the only way to actually ensure a more fair solution would be to have politicians accountable to everyone they effect, including those that are under 18 but still entirely capable of understanding what is happening to them.

Then we get into the question of understanding. Can somebody under the age of 18 really understand all of the so-called complications of voting? The answer, an unequivocal yes, is staring us right in the face. We expect so much out of youth today. We expect the average 16 year old to take and succeed on the SAT, a comprehensive critical thinking test. We, as a society, have let this critical thinking test determine what college, if any, a teenager is eligible to go to, and they only get two shots. If we expect that the average 16 year old can pass, or even ace that test, why is it that we render them incapable of voting? Are we scared? Perhaps, an undeserved stigma? A double standard, of sorts? We expect the average 16 year old to be able to hold a part time job, and pay taxes mind you, keep up with the increasingly hellish environment that is high school, not break any laws, and never lash out, or act like a "child," yet we do not grant them any of the rights earned by that burden. We consider teenagers to be in between childhood and an adulthood, and as a result, we give them the worst of both worlds, by exponentially increasing their responsibility while giving them no rights in return, including the right to cast a simple ballot.

The denial of their right to vote is only the tip of the iceberg. We have a greater illness as a nation that this is only a symptom of. The illness is the way we treat our youth. Thousands and thousands of unwanted children in state-run foster homes, teenage depression at all-time highs, robbing them of their their sleep, their childhood, their happiness, and, because of the lack of rights, their very lives. We narrow down the pathways available to them by denying them the right to explore, to create, to lead, and simply, to participate. We take our youth for granted.

The reason we don't let them vote is because we want them to be mindless slaves, but they can be so much more. We want them to work when it is convenient and remain stagnant when they aren't, because after all, fun is irritating. Teenagers having a choice is irritating. We don't simply take away their right to vote. We take away their right to spend their free time as they wish, and sometimes, even the right to free time in itself. We see children, true pre-pubescent children, as dependent recipients who don't do anything, and thusly don't deserve rights. Yet, when they reach the age where they are able to produce, able to do good, able to break the chains of servitude and make their mark on the world, we beat them down.

Be it out of fear, jealousy, or even complete accident, we limit the possibilities of our future generation in every possible way and then blame them when they reap what we've sown. Allowing these teenagers, these human beings to go out and vote won't solve all of our problems, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction.