The most recent example in this conversation that has once again brought the topic to the forefront is remarks from Vivek Ramaswamy. As The Hill explains, “Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy is proposing that the U.S. raise the voting age to 25, with exceptions for those 18 and older who serve in the military, work as emergency responders or take a naturalization test.”
While some arguments for changing the voting age have centered on the potential political allegiances of young adults, beyond the surface of the issue, both sides (lower and raise) have also made points about why changing the voting age makes logical sense.
Proponents of lowering the voting age say that such a policy would increase voter engagement and turnout, and proponents of raising the voting age often point to the immaturity and inexperience of young adults. And with a recent Pew Research Center analysis showing that young adults are taking longer to reach milestones (like getting married, having children, holding a full-time job, or living independent from parents) than previous generations, it makes sense why the voting age continues to be debated.
Indeed, it’s only within relatively recent U.S. history that 18 became the voting age. Prior to the addition of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution in 1971, U.S. citizens had to be 21 in order to vote. Though it wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that this happened, there was a movement to lower the voting age during World War II when the draft age was lowered from 21 to 18.
Later, during the Vietnam War when 18-year-olds were conscripted, the World War II slogan “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” came back into the political conversation. The argument behind this slogan was fairly straight-forward: If 18-year-olds are old enough to be conscripted to fight and die for their country, they should get a say in the future direction of the country with a vote.
Today, this raises an important question: If we change the voting age, should we also change the age at which we require young men to sign up for selective service? And perhaps an even more important question arises as well: Should voting be associated with certain duties like selective service or paying taxes?
However, signing up for selective service and being able to vote aren’t the only changes that occur when U.S. citizens (though just men for the draft) turn 18. Right now, 18 is the age of majority, so once a teen turns 18, he’s able to sign legally binding contracts, and the court system treats him as an adult, trying him as an adult for potential crimes. If an individual is not responsible enough to vote, is he responsible enough to sign a legally binding contract or be tried as an adult (and vice versa)?
That said, there are other responsibilities and privileges that vest at other ages: Americans must be 21 to purchase alcohol and 16 to obtain a driver’s license in most states. And while the tax structure for most kids is different than the one for adults, kids earning more than $12,950 will likely pay taxes.
Another consideration is whether voting is a right, a responsibility, or both (a right with responsibilities). If voting is strictly a right, then it shouldn’t be dependent on whether a person pays taxes, for example. But if that right has responsibilities, then it may be dependent on signing up for selective service or paying taxes. The reverse could also be said: If selective service, for instance, is a responsibility, does it have an associated right like voting?
With all these considerations, the issue of voting age becomes a lot more complicated.
Certainly, I’m not in favor of lowering the voting age, but I wonder what unintended consequences raising the voting age would have if we do not carefully consider all the practical and logical factors.
And whether or not we change the voting age, the results from the aforementioned Pew Research analysis are still troubling. Why are young adults reaching milestones later in life?
According to the analysis, a large contributing factor to the shift in fewer full-time jobs is an increase in college attendance. And arguably, fewer young adults with full-time jobs could, in turn, contribute to the drop-off in other key milestones: Having children or being independent from one’s parents typically requires working full time.
Changing the voting age might be a temporary solution to this shift we see in Generation Z, but if younger generations aren’t reaching important milestones—or reach them at delayed points—then we also need to find long-term solutions to get future generations back on track. How do we teach young adults the financial skills they need to be independent from their parents? Should everyone attend college, or is there value in opting for trade school or workforce experience? And perhaps most importantly, how can we promote traditional families and marriage?
Image credit: Pixabay-Thor Deichmann