Movement for Under-Age Voting
On the day of
the California presidential primary last month, six Berkeley high-school
students woke up early to protest the constitutional voting age outside of a
local polling place. Instead of suffrage at 18, the high-school students propose
a voting age of 16.
ballots?" asked one homemade picket sign, while another read, "No
taxation without representation, Where's my ballot?!?" Before going to
school, the students marched inside the polling place to demand a ballot, but a
volunteer turned them away.
the 17-year-old protest leader, Robert Reynolds, the local chapter leader of a
small radical youth movement called National Youth Rights Association, and I
asked the problem with the status quo. "Politicians have no reason to pay
attention to the interests of teenagers because teenagers are nothing to them
because they can't vote," Reynolds said.
Youth Rights Association proposes a voting age of 16 while a more extreme group,
called Americans for a Free Society from Age Restrictions, says, "A
Constitutional amendment forbidding the right to vote to be denied on the basis
of age should be proposed and sent to the states for ratification." A
similar mission led to the founding of a Brown University student organization
called the Association for Children's Suffrage.
the concept of children voting remains far from the mainstream. In the cases of
proposed unregulated enfranchisement, a child's right to vote is comparable to
allowing cats and dogs to vote.
Reynolds is convinced that the Constitution will be amended to allow children to
vote during his lifetime. "I will still be working on it until the voting
age is lowered," he promises.
original U.S. Constitution, the voting age was set at 21. It was at 21 that a
young person became an official adult in the Western tradition. English common
law established the age of 21 as the minimum eligibility for knighthood.
time, all societies have recognized the important distinction between childhood
and adulthood. (The concept of "adolescence" is only a century old.)
While it is true that in some societies adulthood comes sooner than in others,
American childhood does not fully merge into adulthood until the completion of
formal education and eligibility for military service at age 18. Hence the 26th
Amendment to the Constitution in 1972 that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
relatively little has changed in the timing of major life transitions for young
Americans. Age 18 is the typical age of movement between high school and
college, civilian and military, living with parents and living independently.
of children voting is not a symptom of political necessity in conformity to
America's republican form of government. It is rather a symptom of generational
confusion, a bewilderment more pronounced in the moral culture than it is in
discussions of politics.
In our time,
the social roles of adults and children have been increasingly questioned. Young
people who are immersed in the relativist values of the culture are blinded to
the necessity of boundaries between childhood and adulthood. Instead of young
people aspiring in due time to the values, norms and types of entertainment of
their parents, they are trying to rush the maturity process.
that education has nothing to do with the right to vote. "In the
Constitution, it doesn't say anything about having to have an education before
you can vote," he says.
founders were convinced that education has much to do with civic responsibility.
"Religion, morality, and knowledge" are prerequisites to "good
government and the happiness of mankind," wrote the authors of the 1787
Northwest Ordinance, and thus, "schools and the means of education shall be
forever encouraged." The reason all of America has compulsory education is
so that it can train students in the great study of citizenship.
forgotten that. But indeed, education does come before the vote. Concerned
America ought to be more worried about the content of our educational system
than about flimsy, temporary get out the vote drives. We should give spend more
energy teaching American history and civics than we do struggling to resist
those who come to power devoid of genuine history and civics education.
Citizenship is a product of education.
aren't about to vote, but America's prevailing spirit of radical egalitarianism
is becoming more and more extreme day by day. If current trends keep up, our
generation will be fighting the battle over under-aged voting within a few
Hans Zeiger is a Hillsdale College student and president of the Scout Honor Coalition. www.hanszeiger.com
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