But there are plenty of good arguments for it
There’s one time in most Americans lives when you can be sure that they are studying the history of this nation — eleventh grade.
For this one year, most sixteen-and-seventeen-year-olds take a deep dip into the lore of this country that has gotten so many things right and wrong. If their schooling is marginal, they’ll learn some key dates, names and, likely, skip over the promises and utter failure of Reconstruction. If they’re studying for the Advanced Placement test, they may gain a more than passing acquaintance with the Federalist Papers to prepare themselves for the DBQ, the document-based question, which tests the ability to reckon with and interpret primary historical sources. Then, assuming they pass the course, they will move on, in many states, to study government or “civics.”
Once an American citizen leaves high school, we can never again be sure s/he will study American history or government in any organized fashion. But we can be sure that s/he will be eligible to do something else: vote — unless, of course, s/he’s a black person who lives in Republican state.
The lack of solid “civics” education is often decried as one of the unstoppable forces of attrition in our society. It has been blamed for everything from the election of Donald Trump to the record low turnout in the 2014 election (though I’d point to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 as a more pressing concern).
One particularly startling statistic is that only 8 percent of American students identified slavery as the cause of the Civil War. (Speaking of primary sources, a quick survey at the Southern states own justification and the “Cornerstone Speech” delivered by Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, will make it perfectly clear that the South seceded because it wanted to be able to keep owning black people.)
This stat suggests that we’re failing our kids miserably. But it’s nothing compared to absolute failure of adult guidance experienced by the students of Stoneman Douglas High School. In the aftermath of a mass shooting that left 14 of their classmates dead. Their outrage and intuitive mastery of modern media in the face of a deluge of unfathomable platitudes and “prayers” has sparked a reckoning that amazingly did not occur as America responded generally with stunned acceptance as one man shot some 900 people at a country concert in Las Vegas.
The NRA is too powerful, many assumed. If we did nothing when 20 children no older than 7 were massacred in a classroom, why should we do anything now?
But like the #metoo movement, the students of Parkland, echoing what many black teens have been saying for years, woke us into some reality. The future isn’t predetermined. A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can still change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
Our job is to support them as they take on power structures many assumed were unassailable only five months before. But there is something we can do, a new goal we can make part of our agenda for saving democracy:
Let’s give older teenagers the best civics lesson there is. Sixteen-year-olds should have the right to vote.
I came to this thought around the same time as former Missouri secretary of state and current Majority 54 host Jason Kander and former-Obama speechwriter and current Pod Save America and Love It or Leave It host Jon Lovett, both affiliated with Crooked Media. Sometimes I fear I’m the Rupert Pupkin of Crooked Media. And often, even that seems like grandiose fantasy.
So I thought I’d let Lovett’s excellent piece stand as the definitive argument for the enfranchisement of sixteen-year-old Americans. He fisks and defenestrates most of the arguments against expanding the franchise.
“Voting is how America’s young people can protect themselves,” Lovett ultimately surmises.
But I think there’s also a positive argument to be made. And I’m desperate to impress teens. So here goes.
Young adults should be able to vote and they should be able to do so as soon as possible. Those who deride this possibility do so because they know their entire agenda requires disillusioning the generation that is most at risk due to our current politics.
Here are three reasons that giving older #teens the right to vote will make America a better place:
1. People who are 16 and 17 are as qualified to vote as anyone in their 80s or 90s.
The Republican Party likely would crumble as a national force tomorrow if seniors in nursing and retirement homes stopped voting. Meanwhile, their their entire agenda serves to undo the biggest victories of the “War on Poverty” — which primarily benefited the elderly. You can argue that teens cognitive abilities on average do not match adults in their “peak” years, but you could make the same case against some older voters. The difference is, only one group has to live with the consequences of their current choices for generations.
Any argument against teens voting makes more sense when applied against older seniors voting.
Don’t think a 16 year old has enough “life experience” to vote? Put her up against twenty 78-year-olds and let’s see who figures out which stories in their Facebook feed are real first. You could easily argue that Americans who grew up without computers and smartphones are not equipped to participate as citizens in this society.
2. We are looting this generation of kids who will have to live with the horrible choices we’re making.
Why are we running a massive deficit now, as unemployment is at two-decade lows, but had to fight to keep Republicans from defaulting on our debt during the aftermath of the worst recession in 60 years? Why are we intent on making the two worst crises of our time — wealth inequality and climate change — worse? Why are we proposing cuts to a safety net that’s already the flimsiest in the developed world? Probably because the people who’d have to bear the brunt of these horrible choices cannot vote yet.
3. Expanding democracy is the only solution to the right’s attack on democracy.
Trump’s Nazi-like slurs against immigrants and immigration policies straight out of the Second Klan stir up his base’s well nurtured resentments, but there is also some conniving practicality to this agenda. Trump’s GOP is trying to gerrymander states and the nation the way they’ve gerrymandered Congress to keep 95 percent of GOP House districts majority white. America’s voters become more diverse every year. The future has never been so clear, yet so far away, with GOP policies determined to keep majority white districts and states punching above their weight for decades. In addition to all the practical steps Democrats need to take to make sure the electorate better reflects the population, we need to send a clear message to the next generation of voters — not only do we want you, we need you.
UPDATE: This issue is new to me, obviously. Here’s some good news:
Some places allow 16 year olds to vote in local elections. Many states allow 17 year olds a primary vote if they turn 18 by the general. Some localities allow high school students (as young as 14) to vote for a full voting member of their school board https://t.co/XKT2uPNcQb
— Michael McDonald (@ElectProject) February 26, 2018
#Teens, find out when you’re eligible to vote here.
[Image by (Mariam) | Flickr]