There are a few issues that drag me out of my far-left lair and turn me right into Conan the Libertarian. Voting rights is one of them. I believe that every citizen of the United States should be registered to vote at birth and that nothing should take that away from them except loss of citizenship. That includes felons and the currently incarcerated.
It also includes children, and I do mean young children. The second a child is old enough to be enrolled in mandatory state-run education or the approved private equivalent, they should get to have a voice in in who represents them.
This came up recently thanks to a move by Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington D.C. to lower the voting age from 18 to 16. There had been previous attempts in the city that went nowhere, but the idea is gaining enough traction that it was endorsed by the Washington Post. Certainly the recent actions of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors paint the teens of 2018 as a politically involved force to be reckoned with. They’re eager to have their voices heard in concrete ways, and the idea I keep seeing is that politicians should be frightened of them when they’re old enough to vote.
No, politicians should be frightened of them now. Frankly, they should have been frightened of them a decade ago. We’re raising an entire generation of students who know what it’s like to prepare for a spree-killing in the middle of their math lesson, and we’ve given them no mechanism outside their parents to demand a reason why they should live that way. Rassilon bless Mayor Bowser, but 16 is far later than I would want kids to start engaging in the voting process. Six is more my speed.
I run into three major arguments against. The first is usually someone bringing up the “Tide Pod generation” as indicative of incompetency for franchise. Leaving aside the fact that someone who thinks Tide Pods is slam dunk in the argument department probably votes as well as they debate, that doesn’t really change the fact that we’re not talking about his generation. We’re talking about all generations forward. There will always be some ridiculous and potentially dangerous thing that a tiny percentage of people under the age of 18 participate in that gets blown up as the acme of generational stupidity. Treating kids like we’re smarter than them is literally how adults maintain power over them, which is why I suspect people trot out Tide Pods or whatever as a reason votes should be handle by more mature folks who do things like believe in human trafficking rings run out of pizza parlors or listen to Alex Jones as if he wasn’t a Dr. Seuss cartoon from his era drawing racist propaganda for the government. As long as they can pretend they’re the smart ones because of an arbitrary line, they don’t have to examine one facet of their own dunderheadedness.
The second is more subtle but functionally identical. Basically, it boils down to a softer argument against the “readiness” of children to vote or their ability to comprehend larger issues. There’s no aspect of this argument that isn’t completely farcical. The human brain isn’t done maturing until the age of 25 or older, and yet we allow seven years of voting in the interim. Older people with dementia or the mentally ill are not disenfranchised no matter what their cognitive abilities, nor should they be. We only seem to care about mental facility on one side of the age equation, which is a prime indicator the whole idea is bullshit. Studies have shown that presumably full-thinking adults can be influenced in their vote by something as simple as whether it’s raining or whose name is listed first on the ballot.
No adult is judged on their mental readiness at the ballot box. Even politically aware people vote for a panel of judges they have probably never heard of. If there is some concrete difference between how a kid would approach this and how an adult would, I can’t find it.
Lastly, and this comes from my liberal friends, there’s this cockamamie assumption that large conservative families will cajole their broods into voting the way they want. First, there’s some solid evidence that wives (until 1920 themselves a disenfranchised group) already vote like their husbands even against their own interests. If we’re not taking away their franchise over it, I fail to see why it’s fair to do so for children.
More than that, we actually have a test case here that proves it’s either nonsense or statistically negligible. Scholastic holds a mock election every four years, and you know what it found when the votes are tallied? Kids generally vote more or less how the rest of the country votes. Since 1960, the poll has accurately picked all but three presidential contests, and if you limit your criteria to the popular vote only all but two. That’s a pretty good score overall, and a sober reminder that your kids are in fact paying at least as much attention as most of us are.
All three arguments boil down to “I am afraid kids will vote unlike how I want them to,” and that’s a sentiment that should make all of us uneasy. Kids spend 40 hours a week or more in schools they can’t select board members for or have a say who might pick the Secretary of Education. They can’t vote on a mayor that might make their sidewalks safer. They can work and pay taxes, but have zero representation over how that tax money might be spent. There are so many issues that directly affect them, everything from drug laws to the cost of higher education, that they are needlessly barred from being able to help shape until they are already knee-deep in the consequences of the previous generation’s opinions.
The right to vote is absolutely sacred, and it bothers me greatly that we are withholding it from the very class of people who will have to deal with the world we shape the longest. Election day should be held in elementary schools in spirit, not just in locality. My guess is that politicians have good reason why they shouldn’t want to answer to kids — that’s the best reason to make them have to.