Lowering the Voting Age to Sixteen
The Washington D.C. City Council will soon hold a vote on a bill that would lower the voting age to 16. The measure, which has already passed the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee by a margin of 3-0, will, unless sanity somehow reenters the council, likely pass.
The result will be a victory for the glories of democracy as suffrage is extended to a group with a high-school graduation rate of 42%.
Extending the privilege of voting to young people is never the scheme of careful consideration. Nobody who takes the art of civics seriously thinks it’s a wise idea to give younger people the vote; if anything, they see the standard age of 18 to be too young. If 18 wasn’t the earliest age for military eligibility, there’d be no reason to keep the voting age below 25.
But as Charles Cooke of National Review points out, there is legal consistency in maintaining the voting age at 18. It’s the same age you can buy a gun, die for your country, or even be tried as an adult. Being allowed to vote seems only fair.
Lowering the age to 16 is a crude attempt at injecting the voting populace with a more liberal bloc. Conservatism is an understanding for the aged, who appreciate the accrual of wisdom. Left-liberalism is for the young, who find no need for the hard-learned lessons of yesteryear and desire immediate change.
Aristotle said as much, writing in Nicomachean Ethics,
A young man is not a proper hearer of lectures on political science; for he is inexperienced in the actions that occur in life, but its discussions start from these and are about these; and, further, since he tends to follow his passions, his study will be vain and unprofitable, because the end aimed at is not knowledge but action.
Teenagers are tyrants with high time preferences and volatile emotional states. We don’t need to observe this fact of nature; we need only think back on our own torturous years as adolescents. Anyone who thinks themselves James Madison before they take their first legal puff of a cigarette is lying to themselves.
The argument that voting should be reserved for a more learned, more experienced demos doesn’t satisfy the most ardent democrat, however, as he or she views voting as an eternal right not limited to one’s maturity. After all, there are adults who have lived comfortably ensconced in a plastic-wrapped bubble, protected from life’s vagaries.
Even so, lowering the voting age to 16 doesn’t fully satisfy the deontological case for widespread suffrage. Theodore Dalrymple asks theoretically, “Why stick at 16, then? Why not 12? And why not deprive the aged of their votes, on the grounds that they have little stake in the future of the country compared with 12-year-olds and tend to be not only cautious but attached to the past?”
The answer is simple, of course: Once you accept that voting shouldn’t be limited on age and status because everyone has a stake in society, then infants, logically speaking, have the right to vote. Our youngest may not be able to choose between Mickey Mouse and Big Bird jammies, but, by gum, they’re qualified to pick a president!
The left’s view of democracy as an all-encompassing force for good is the result of its idolization of politics. As religion and family bonds have retreated from public life, politics has filled the void. It’s why leftist politicians wax rhapsodic about democracy: they view voting as the fulfillment of a meaningful life.
That’s why any effort made to ensure the integrity of the voting system, whether through voter I.D. laws or mandated purging of deceased and unqualified names from voter rolls, isn’t just seen as counterproductive by zealous democrats, but as sacrilegious.
No political matter can be discussed without addressing the cynical side of it. Democracy holds a special place in the liberal democrat’s heart. But there is a venal interest in lowering the voting age: the suggestibility of the young. Teenagers are impressionable. It’s why they spend the majority of their day staring at a screen in their palm.
By lowering the vote age, an entirely new and pliable constituency is open to the political left, which already has no issue making pie-in-the-sky promises in exchange for support. In George Bernard Shaw’s “The Apple Cart,” the unscrupulous Boanerges explains this process to the king:
“I talk democracy to these men and women. I tell them that they have the vote, and that theirs is the kingdom and the power and the glory. I say to them “You are supreme: exercise your power”. They say, “That's right: tell us what to do’; and I tell them. I say “Exercise our vote intelligently by voting for me”. And they do.
I don’t doubt the sincerity of many democracy advocates who think voting is the supreme act of public importance. But I wasn’t born yesterday. Politics is chiefly a game of creating mistrust in your opponent. The young will be taken advantage of in the high-stakes game of elections.
It’s true that teenagers used to be able to vote in nineteenth-century America. Things were different back then. The federal government was a near non-entity (the Civil War notwithstanding). The biggest public matters were local. The country was still fairly homogeneous. The philosophy of the Founders wasn’t regarded as a racist anachronism.
Opening the electoral floodgates to those younger than eighteen years of age will only corrupt an already damaged system. In an ideal society, voting would be limited to individuals fully informed of the history of their country, the formation of their government, and the duties demanded of political officials. Instead, we have Obamaphone voters and the enfranchisement of illegal immigrants.. And now we want to extend the gift of suffrage to those who can’t mail a simple letter?
For the sake of what’s left of civic responsibility, let’s hope the newest ploy coming out of Washington, D.C., doesn’t catch on.