It’s been talked about to death that young people don’t vote as often as they should. If they did, we wouldn’t have celebrities pretending to be concerned at “Rock the Vote” rallies every election cycle.
It’s no secret that youth voting is somewhat spotty. In this last midterm election, an abysmal 36.4% of ALL registered voters came out. And of that 36.4%, only 13% were ages 18–29.
To put this in easy (if not disconcerting) mathematical perspective, if you had 10,000 citizens able to vote in your theoretical election, only 3,640 would’ve bothered to come out to the polls. And of that small group, a minuscule 473 of them would be young people.
So what is it? Why do so few people aged 18–29 do their civic duty? Why do they stay home? Are politics boring? Are they too busy thinking about themselves?
Or how about this–
Maybe they don’t have anything in common with the people they’re supposed to be electing.
Let’s be serious for a minute. If you’re 18-years-old right now, born in 1998 (ack), which presidential candidate do you really have anything in common with? Everyone in the current field is at least two generations older than you, and in the instance of pop-pop Bernie Sanders, over five (although I tend to think his appeal hinges upon acting like a young radical). How can you be expected to truly give a shit about people that don’t understand anything about your life, with whom you have no practical connection?
Which is why I’m willing to float this simple, yet ludicrously difficult to implement idea:
Let’s constitutionally lower age candidacy laws to eighteen.
Even if you only vaguely remember the Constitution, you probably still know that you have to be 25 to serve in the House of Representatives, 30 to go to the Senate, and 35 to be elected President. But the reality is this: The average age of a representative is 57, the average age of a senator is 62, and when first elected, the average age of a U.S. President is 55.
To 18-year-olds, their leaders are always people in completely different walks of life, whose concerns rarely mirror their own. I mean, could YOU get excited if laws on sex and reproduction were being passed by people way beyond the age of being able to even HAVE sex or reproduce? Of course not.
Age does not equal wisdom
Generally, we think by barring young people from becoming leaders in government, we’re somehow protecting ourselves from being led astray by inexperience and foolishness. That would be the case if we were electing Kylie Jenner, but do you honestly think the American people would be stupid enough to elect a young person that didn’t have SOME sort of qualifications?
But therein lies the problem. We’ve tied youth to capriciousness so tightly, that it’s been difficult to break this link. It becomes virtually automatic: Are you young? Of course you can’t be trusted with anything important.
Don’t trust the young and they sure won’t trust you back
Sadly, that’s the message that goes out to young people when it comes to government: “This matters too much for you to be trusted.”
Can you blame young people for not giving a shit? The system places so little value on their opinion or how they really think, and yet young people are somehow expected to vote anyway? What’s their motivation? A vote should go to someone on equal footing, and not be a permission slip for older Americans to run your life because you’re arbitrarily prevented by the Constitution.
Government by and for the (older) people
The way government exists today, young voters get nothing but depressing and demoralizing messages:
Hey young person,
- You have the immense responsibility to choose who can lead you, yet you’re barred from leading yourself.
- You’re asked to pay into the government with your taxes, but god forbid you want any control of how that money is spent.
- You can fight and die for America, yet you can’t make decisions on whether you should go fight and die.
- You’re free to start companies that fill the economy with billions of dollars (think Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Elon Musk, and other such entrepreneurs), yet you’re not allowed an elected position to govern America’s finances. I mean, it’s not like you’re experienced with money and job creation or anything.
- You’re able to both have and rear a child, yet you have no say on laws that might affect their lives.
The unfairness is staggering. Last time I checked, it was a fifty-six year old man that sent thousands of Americans to their graves in Iraq with shoddy intelligence. And believe me, that’s only one of countless examples that I could dredge up.
We need a mix of young and old in government, not old and old
Which leads me to my last point. This isn’t an attack on the capabilities of older Americans. Experience isn’t a bad thing when combined with acumen and judgment. But wisdom isn’t just the provence of the old. As David Bowie so accurately sang (and The Breakfast Club quoted), …these children that you spit on / As they try to change their worlds / Are immune to your consultations / They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.
Young people are extremely able and smart, yet they’re given so few opportunities to be trusted with anything that matters. Is it any wonder they completely check out of the political process? “YOU DON’T BELONG” is practically emblazoned on the Capitol steps.
The American government needs young perspective. But let’s combine that perspective with the abilities of public servants from ALL walks of of life. Think how fresh and innovative American leadership could be again with that kind of diversity.
And let’s go even beyond that. Let’s have a government that represents the real make-up of America. Young and old people live and work together NOW in our union. By finally integrating the young in our governing process, that union can only get much stronger, and dare I say, closer to being truly equal.