Why is our political system so shortsighted? On so many issues, from global warming to fiscal responsibility, our government seems focused on short-term benefits, while it ignores long-term consequences. Our infrastructure is falling apart, our schools are underfunded, and all the while special interests make out like bandits. Why?
One reason among many is the way our electorate is dominated by the elderly. I love my grandparents, don’t get me wrong, but for self-evident reasons their generation is pretty focused on the short term. And since Americans 45 and older, who are less than 40 percent of the overall population, make up more than half of the electorate, it’s those short-term issues that get the most political attention. Most people who vote today will be long gone by the time the adverse impacts of their short-term agenda are felt.
Part of the issue is something we hear all the time: “Young people don’t vote.” And that’s true. Most of the people I went to high school with are either not registered to vote, or are registered but didn’t bother to actually cast a ballot. That’s a big problem, and it’s on us to solve it.
But to some extent, it seems as though our laws are designed to discourage young people from voting. If you had to pick the worst possible time in a person’s life for them to begin voting, age 18 might be it. Huge numbers of young people find themselves away from home for their first election, and this is a contributing factor to low turnout rates among young voters. College students either need to go through a fairly arduous process to cast an absentee ballot, or change their residency to the town their college is in — a place they may know almost nothing about.
Fortunately, there is a solution: lower the voting age. If people start voting while they’re still in high school, teachers and parents can help encourage students to vote. They would also be voting in a town they know well, and feel invested in. And since voting has been shown to be a habitual behavior, once young people start voting, they’re likely to continue. Lowering the voting age could mean higher turnout rates for the entire electorate.
The most common argument against lowering the voting age is that young people aren’t capable of casting “good” or “informed” votes. But this is both wrong and irrelevant. High school students, who are required to take classes in history and government, are often more informed than older voters. And even if some young people aren’t well-informed, we allow everyone to vote, even the half of Republicans who think President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Simply put, this is America — everyone gets to vote, even the uninformed.
Lowering the voting age isn’t radical; in fact, Connecticut has expanded voting rights for young people before. In 2008, we amended our state constitution to lower the voting age in primaries to 17, provided the voter would be 18 by the general election. There’s no reason we couldn’t do it again, and expand voting rights to all people 16 and older. We wouldn’t be the first: 16- and 17-year-olds can already vote in Takoma Park, MD and Hyattsville, MD. Internationally, Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua all have a voting age of 16, and Scotland allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in last year’s independence referendum. I challenge our state legislators to take up this important issue, and give a voice to young people in Connecticut. We can place a higher priority on the future by enfranchising those destined to live in it.
Kiernan Majerus-Collins, 20, is a student at Bates College and a Democratic Town Committee member from West Hartford. He can be reached on Facebook
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