Oregon state Sen. Shemia Fagan.

Oregon state Sen. Shemia Fagan.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

There is an effort underway in Salem to change Oregon’s legal voting age from 18 to 16 years old.

Portland-based Democratic state Sen. Shemia Fagan introduced a measure Monday to make Oregon the first state in the nation to do so.

“It’s time to lower the voting age in Oregon and to give our young people a chance to participate in the ballot, about their decisions that affect their homes, their clean air, their future, their schools and as we’ve seen, their very lives,” Fagan said.

The state senator pointed to the young activists who became engaged after the Parkland shooting in Florida, which left 17 people dead. They proved young people are active and should have a right to vote, Fagan said.

Several teenagers spoke in favor of the measure alongside Fagan on Monday at the Capitol.

“Why can I drive like an adult, pay taxes like an adult, have an abortion like an adult, be charged and sentenced like an adult, but I can’t vote like an adult?” asked Christine Bynum, a student at La Salle High School.

Students spoke of a desire to curb gun violence and to protect the environment.

“We’re experts of our own experiences,” said Connor Gabor.

People are being sexually assaulted in their schools, Gabor said. People are being shot. Yet, they can’t vote for school board members or lawmakers, he said.

“When we have a lockdown and fear for our lives, we know what that feels like. We want to take agency over our own lives,” Gabor said.

Fagan, with the help of the advocacy group the Bus Project, is proposing a change to the Oregon Constitution. If lawmakers approve the measure, it would then be sent to the voters. Fagan said she hopes it’s on the ballot in the 2020 election.

She could encounter some pushback from Republicans. 

Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, Jr., R-Grants Pass, said 16-years-old is too young to vote. 

“… (They) are too young to enlist in the military, too young to own firearms, too young to own property, too young to enter into legal contracts, and too young to get married. But they are old enough to vote? People are not legally considered adults in this country until they are 18 years old, and I believe they shouldn’t be able to vote until then either. This is nothing more than an attempt to expand the voter rolls to sway elections,” he said.