Magazine | May 6, 2019, Issue

Insufferable Suffrage

Sixteen-year-olds absolutely should not vote

There’s an insidious movement afoot to lower the voting age to 16. By promising suffrage to the most easily manipulated and emotionally unstable voters in America, Democrats in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress, where Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has endorsed the scheme, are pushing to make the electorate quite literally less mature.

Americans get their hackles up when you point out that teenagers are probably the most insufferable group in the nation. Well, second-most insufferable. As a group, teens, of course, aren’t immoral or irredeemably broken, like most politicians, just unfinished and slightly unbalanced — awkwardly oscillating between incomprehensible immaturity and unearned confidence, and between impulsiveness and irrational anxiety. Incentivizing elected officials to pander to the fleeting whims and mercurial idealism of people who have been known occasionally to ingest detergent pods is national suicide.

Sixteen-year-olds have good excuses for their lack of judgment: an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, a dreadful public-school system, and coddling parents. Those who want to empower kids to chime in on war and peace and marginal tax rates when they still have to ask their parents for permission slips before going on a class trip, however, do not.

“Across this nation, young people are leading the way — from gun violence to climate change to the future of work. They are organizing, mobilizing, and calling us to action,” explained Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley after introducing an amendment to lower the voting age in federal elections. “Our young people are at the forefront of some of the most existential crises facing our communities and our society at large.”

The mere fact that children can be duped into believing that their communities are facing “existential” crises is in itself a compelling reason not to let them vote. Young people, who Pressley basically admits are being used to further partisan liberal hobbyhorses, should be mobilizing to attain educations, jobs, and fixed gender identities before wasting their time on political protests. Despite the near-religious role that politics, activism, marching, and victimhood have taken up in certain parts of contemporary American life, none of these activities reflect proper republican virtues. Keep it off the streets.

Even young people who can vote tend to avoid the practice. According to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, the United States ranked 31st out of 35 countries for overall voter turnout — or, as more skeptical observers might contend, we ranked fifth among 35 nations. Among those voters, only 25 percent of young people bother voting at all.

One of the best, and inadvertently most informative, articles on the matter could be found in the Washington Post not long ago. “Many young people don’t vote because they never learned how. Here’s a free class now in schools trying to change that,” the headline explained. The piece went on to explore the struggles of young Americans, purportedly deprived of civics lessons because of funding cuts, struggling to master the complex mechanics of voting.

Maybe it’s because they’ve been convinced by the political class that anything short of the state sending a car to deliver and pick up your mail-in ballot is an act of “voter suppression,” or maybe it’s because they’re so proficient with technology, but young people demand instantaneous results. Whatever the case, if prospective voters can’t crack the mystery of paper ballots — arguably the least complicated and burdensome thing in the life of a citizen — perhaps they need a bit more seasoning.

When New York magazine polled young people to ask why they don’t vote, they found that some were apathetic and others rightly questioned the efficacy of politics as a tool of societal change. Many, also inadvertently, made the case for raising the voting age. Take “Tim,” a twentysomething from Austin, Texas, who has, thankfully, never cast a ballot in his life. The young man explained that he had “tried to register for the 2016 election” but had failed. And anyway, “I hate mailing stuff; it gives me anxiety.” Now, contemporary young people are certainly just as intelligent as anyone who came before them. But — and I will doubtlessly sound like a crank for bringing this up — in the old days a 27-year-old might have already participated in one of the major conflicts of the 20th century, gotten married, had children, and bought a house. If a stamp scares you, perhaps the republic can survive without your political input for a few more years.

So let’s raise the voting age for everyone who doesn’t join the armed forces. There is a far stronger case for it. Of course, it’s a difficult task, because the ill-advised 26th Amendment (passed and ratified in 1971) prevents states from setting a voting age higher than 18. But since the average age of the American voter is 57, let’s use majoritarianism to our advantage.

I would prefer something in the 30-year-old range, but I’m willing to compromise. Neuroscientists generally argue that brain development continues until the age of 25. And it’s around age 25 that young people start making a living and better comprehending the policies that affect their lives. Tacking on eight years also makes sense when we think about long-term trends in life expectancy. The year I was born, an average American could expect to live to nearly 71. Today he can expect to live to be nearly 79.

There is every reason to want teens, uninterested in voting or unprepared to vote, to perform an important civic duty by staying home rather than imposing their ignorance on the rest of us. And if you argue that many adult voters are similarly infantile and ignorant, I say: You’re right. Let’s not create any more.

David Harsanyi is a senior editor of the Federalist and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today

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