Note: when I wrote this in 2011, the idea made satirical sense to me. Now I’m leaning the other way: Baby Boomers and earlier generations should only get a half-vote. They have a less vested interest in the future, and it shows in their voting patterns.
I have a radical proposal, one that could transform democracy: change the voting age. When I was in junior high, eighteen year olds got the right to vote. It made sense, and I can defend that as an experiment. In 1971, when the 26th amendment was passed, 18 year olds were being drafted (meaning, children, the government sent males a letter saying they had to go into the Army…not they were invited to, if it fit with their dreams, goals, and schedule). In 1971, 18 year olds could legally drink alcohol some places, and the average age of a first marriage for females was 20 years old; for males, the median age was 23. Eighteen years olds in 1970’s America really were on the brink of assuming adult responsibilities, so arguing that they should be accorded the same rights seems logical and fair.
However, America has changed a lot over the last 40 years. Sociologists have documented the prolonged adolescence that is common now, and the census bureau verifies that the median age for first marriage now is about 27 years old for females, and slightly older for males. The federal government even acknowledged this by mandating that parents’ insurance cover children to age 26–a sign that people in their mid-twenties are often not in a position to take full responsibility for themselves. One more piece of evidence: the average age for enlisting in the Army isn’t 18, straight out of high school; it’s 21--when many of the draftees from the Vietnam era would have been integrating into civilian life as veterans.
So….the 28th amendment should raise the voting age to the late 20’s, an age when people can see age 30 looming ahead and know that sooner or later, they need to become adults. Age 28 makes sense to me: Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, and Kurt Cobain all died at age 27, so that’s become a milestone birthday to some people. Formalizing that to make 28 the official beginning of “your life as a voting citizen” could create a voting citizenry that is less prone to hype in advertising, more skeptical of promises and sound bytes, and have more sense of how the world works and a sense of history, leading to better decisions.
It’s possible that fewer people would vote–I know how hard my school has worked to encourage voter registration and getting out the vote–but I’m ok with that. More people voting easily leads to uninformed people voting, which means sound bite campaigning rules; too often, people are voting based on impressions, emotions and rumors.
I do think there should be one exception: people who have served the country in some fashion–military, Peace Corp, Teach for America, some other official National Service project that requires significant commitment–would have earned the right to vote as well.
This proposal is all just off the top of my head–rambling, freewriting. Not a real proposal, in formal terms. Once I get my Christmas tree down, and my grading caught up, and my laundry done, the campaign may begin….