Wild in the Streets


Today's Cincinnati Enquirer carries a page one story about efforts to reduce the voting to 16:

Should voting age fall to 16?


It's an idea several states—as well as foreign countries—are considering as politicians desperately search for ways to boost dismal and sinking turnout among young adults. …

It sounds counterintuitive: Young adults don't vote, so lower the voting age.

But advocates say 18 is the worst time to start voting because that's when teenagers' lives are in turmoil—moving away to college, stressing out over graduation, getting a job, joining the armed forces.

And studies show voting is a habit that has to start early. If people don't start out as voters, they're less likely to ever vote. Some researchers fear that as this generation of nonvoters ages, they will stay that way, causing a dangerous dive in voter turnout as baby boomers and older generations die out. In the 2000 election, senior citizens voted at about twice the rate of 18- to 24-year-olds. …

Activists are pushing to go further: They want 16-year-olds to be able to vote. At that age most teenagers can work, pay taxes, drive and be charged as adults for crimes—even be sentenced to death—said Alex Koroknay-Palicz, executive director of the National Youth Rights Association.

In most states, 16-year-olds can get a driver's license, though usually with restrictions. And while almost every state requires that a couple be 18 to marry on their own, most states let 16- and 17-year-olds wed if they have their parents' consent. In New Hampshire, girls as young as 13 can marry, as long as they have permission from their parents.

Maybe kids should be able to vote as long as they have parental permission, too.

By all means, reduce the voting age to 16–the Wild in the Streets scenario wasn't really that bad, was it? And compared to some alternatives, it's downright conservative.

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  1. Nothing personal, Matthew, but your bloviation/ haze makes my point that the unintended–but greatly desired by politicians–consequence of voting is to keep voters high.

  2. i am of the opinion that two more years worth of crazy, hormone-drunken kids voting is no worse than letting anyone else vote. and everytime i read the new york post this opinion is strengthened.

    let’s have the politicians come out and truly be forced to make flying jackasses of themselves in the name of MTV and the flavor of the week.

  3. I’ve never understood the drinking laws compared to conscription/ military service and the vote. Hilarious. Somehow an 18 year is responsible enough to vote and to some degree decide the course of the nation in addition to being drafted and/or enlisting where they can legally kill people and operate multimillion dollar equipment, yet not responsible to pick up a sixer of the Beast. I love America.

    Another point is that corporate america doesn’t trust anyone under 24 to rent a car on their own, even though they’ve been driving for 8 years. What does this say about the youth of america?

  4. Reason: extremely gullible, or just disingenuous?

    The group mentioned in this post is also involved in Vasconcellos’ CA legislation (which is discussed at the other Reason link in this post).

    See my comments about the Vasconcellos matter here.

    Maybe Reason could look into who’s behind this and what, oh, I dunno, hidden agendas they might have.

  5. Ruthless,

    Ad hominem attacks are, by definition, personal. Did you have anything constructive or intelligent to offer, or just personal attacks? Specifically what is it that I said that you disagree with?

  6. Matthew,
    Hey, I said nothing personal.
    But what you said that I disagree with is that you’re holding out hope that the system of voting is worth jiggering.
    Voting is the opiate of the masses. Just say, “No!”

  7. again, i stand confused. 16 year olds may very well be susceptible to the influences of teachers. they’re also susceptible to the influences of their parents, media and objects of sexual attraction, human and otherwise.

    again, i point to the new york post’s legendary one sentence per line per thought style of journalism and ask how the NYP reader should be any more capable of voting than some kid?

    to be fair, i’ve never been to california, so perhaps the mexican mind sorceries are truly as powerful as lonewhacko says. but there are conservative teachers, and conservative parents, etc etc etc etc etc, blah blah blah.

  8. Since the topic of alternative election methods has come up I’d like to suggest an interesting site:

    Citizens For Approval Voting

  9. As long as we’re all offering our preferences about suffrage requirements…

    A voter should be at least 21, have basic literacy skills, have contributed to public revenue the previous year (in the appropriate jurisdiction for that particular election), and not be currently serving a sentence (prison, probation or house-arrest) for a felony.

    I think current or past members of the military services in good standing should probably be able to waive the public revenue requirements.

    I’m the first to admit I’ve never been comfortable with the overly “demotic” streak in American culture. I’m an old Federalist in that sense. I still say “The Republic,” after all.


  10. Mandrake-

    Define what you mean by “contributed to public revenue.” Anybody who pays sales tax contributes to public revenue. Or do you refer to income tax? Or property tax? Or perhaps your definition is even more stringent, along the lines of “pay more than you receive.”

    The last one is hard to quantify. Elderly people on social security obviously pay less than they receive in most cases. But what about a millionaire who got the gov’t to use public domain to force a homeowner to move off of her own property so the millionaire could expand his business? Or an employee of a civilian defense contractor? Or a businessman who lobbied the city council for a zoning law to keep his competition at bay?

  11. Ruthless-

    I’m glad you cleared things up with Matthew above, as I wasn’t initially certain how to take your similar comment to me that my posting “buttressed” your own point, but I think I get it now. Have you ever seen the “Free For All” episode of Patrick McGoohan’s “The Prisoner” TV series? I’m thinking that you and he had similar points to make. If you’re unaware of the series, and watching that episode makes you a fan, then I’ve done my good deed for the day. 🙂

    As far as traffic lights, I don’t really mind them, unless they are set to disrupt traffic that would otherwise be orderly and smooth flowing without them. Speaking of that kind of irritation, did you read about the new kind of traffic signal that is combined with a speed sensor? The idea is that, if it “sees” someone coming toward it who is speeding, it will turn red immediately. The cynic in me suspects that getting the motorist to stop is more to ensure that the speeding camera can take an unblurred photograph, than to promote road safety. Relating this development to the present thread, I’ll bet that most of the speeders who are “red-lighted” by the new kind of traffic signal will be young people, who would FLOCK to the polls to outlaw the devices, were they allowed to vote. So, if you value road safety at all, for crimeny’s sake, don’t give the kids the vote. The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

  12. Assume there’s no minimum age for voting.
    Assume you can vote as often as you wish, but at one dollar per vote.

    How many 16 year-olds would ask Dad for a boost in allowance to help the teen do his democratic duty?

  13. No, James Merritt, I’m not aware of the “The Prisoner,” much less the “Free for All” episode, though it sounds up my cell block.
    As current as you are, James, you need extensive remedial tutoring from the likes of me if you are. at heart, pro-traffic signal.
    Traffic signals and other government brain-washing devices–like voting–have sent you into the unfaithful arms of obscure television programs.
    All major intersections should be round-abouts. Minor intersections need only a yield sign to inform the alien which road is likely to be more heavily traveled.

    Hey, have we come full circle?
    The title of this topic is “Wild in the Streets.”

    Repeat after me, James: “Wild is a good thing.”

  14. Only if they own property.
    And they’re white.

  15. Only if they’ve earned citizenship through military service.

  16. Why, with 2 month old donating thousands of dollars to candidates, why not!? 🙂 I especially hated that little loophole for people to give more cash to politicians.

    I don’t believe starting at 16 will make any more voters than at 18.

    For national candidates, this would require a constitutional ammendment. Bush has endorsed SEVEN ammendments so far so why not chuck this in the mix for the Robby the Robot Voter Rego GOP van.

  17. I do not believe our problem right now in this country is that we have too few voters. Sometimes I wish it were only a select few (readers of Reason) who got to vote.

    The real issue is that we have a voting system which nearly precludes a third party from winning anything. We need to throw out this notion of “choose one of ten” and replace it with “rank these ten candidates from best to worst”.

    This would turn the politics on its head and we would end up with the people’s choice. Right now we usually just get the worst of two evils, which is still evil.

  18. Why not give 16 year old the right to vote? is Voting is a “good habit” to start with younger people. but to those opposing such a move, consider how many “adults” actually possess a mind set much beyond that of the average teenager.

  19. Why not give 16 year old the right to vote? is Voting is a “good habit” to start with younger people. but to those opposing such a move, consider how many “adults” actually possess a mind set much beyond that of the average teenager?

  20. Correction: we usually get the lesser of two evils, not the worst.

    And I was only kidding when I said I’d want fewer people to vote. I welcome political participation always, but it seems a little pointless lately.

  21. I think it would help get them in the habit; 16-year-olds have much more time on their hands than high school seniors and college students. Plus if they were allowed to vote, maybe our public school system would realize that they’re actually citizens whose contitutional rights they have to respect.

  22. One alternative to a two-party system is an Israel-style free-for-all, where range-of-the-moment passions topple governments overnight and the clergy is given inordinate power. Would the anarchists among us object?

  23. Talk about unintended consequences:
    Nobody had the intelligence nor foresight to have invented these things for this purpose, but voting and traffic signals have evolved into examples of opiates of the masses.

    Keep the hoi polloi in a haze while the bureaucrats run amok!

  24. Why not lower the voting age to Zero and allow parents/legal guardians to vote for their children and allow 16 yr. olds and higher to vote for themselves? If we have a system right now where politicans can go in to nursing homes and “help” incompetent seniors fill out their absentee ballots so they can be represented then why can’t infants have their parents represent them?

  25. Raise the voting age to 21.

    We don’t need precincts in high schools,
    which would get 90%+ voting at that age.
    16 age voters would give teachers more political power.

    We have fifty percent of the eligible voters voting,
    and those that don’t vote are saying something by that.
    Of the 50% voting, only 10% are knowledgeable of issues/candidates.

    I say stop encourging people to vote
    and start saying if you know the issues, vote.

  26. If the voting age is reduced to 16, my cat will be eligible to vote later this year. I suspect he’d choose just as rationally as most voters do.

  27. There are numerous school districts across the country now that use buses and people funded by tax dollars to take kids from their classes to their state capitals to demonstrate in order to get school funding increased. Using tax dollars to influence getting more tax dollars under the guise of “teaching” the political process. How much more effective it is for those schools to take those kids to the polls to actually vote for an increase in taxes… how corrupt can it get?

  28. Right- “Wild in the Streets”- That was the name of that “youth take over” movie. It featured the song; “Shape of things to come” by Max Frost and the Troopers.

    In one part, they put LSD in the DC water supply, whacking out congress people. Oh well, they’d have less of a capacity to do harm in that condition.

    I think I remember at the end of the movie, the mid-twenties leader of the teen rebellion being told by a couple of pre-pubescent kids that as soon as they take over, “everyone over 25 is out of business”.

  29. Recently, at a national meeting of State Secretaries of State, the theme of the day was, how to get more young people involved in voting. Various “representatives of youth” were invited to speak, including campus organizers for various third parties. Most everyone else who spoke talked about things like lowering the voting age, mounting youth-oriented informational campaigns to explain and encorage voting, electronic voting, etc. When it was his turn, however, the Libertarian guy got up and said that the best way to get young people interested and involved in voting was to ensure that there would be enough real choice on the ballot to be worth a trip to the polling place. Then, he called the Secretary of State of Illinois (I believe it was) to task for dismissing — on a technicality — tens of thousands of petition signatures that had been submitted to get the Libertarian Party on the ballot in his state. There was no question that most of those signatures were likely valid, and that the people who signed understood and agreed that the effect of the petition was to put Libertarian Party candidates on the ballot. Yet the stroke of the State Secretary of State’s pen trumped and muted those voices.

    If you want more young people to participate in the process, try not being so contemptuous of the people’s voice in the first place, and let the flowers bloom.

  30. No one needed to learn how to vote in the past at age 16, did they?

    If the boomers are so good at voting, maybe we should change the age back to 21?

    Personally, I think only folks who pay income taxes should be allowed to vote, and not the ones who pay and then get it all back either. We might be moving to the “bread and circuses” state but the movement would be much slower if only productive members of society were allowed to choose our society’s leaders.

  31. I’d love to see the shakeup in the school board elections if 16 years olds could vote. I can see it now, candidates putting up posters on the walls of the school and handing out candy to high school. Promises for no votes on drug testing at school. By ther time the students realize they’ve been lied to, they’ve graduated, gone off to college or the real world and the politician gets off scot free. We can make the kids cynical about the system at an early age.

  32. Any state can make its voting age anything it wants, as long as it is 18 or lower. If Utah wants 12 and Connecticut wants 14, they can do so. No national rule applies, other than the 19th Amendment.

  33. If their allowed to vote, will they be aloud to drink? How about military service?

  34. If their allowed to vote, will they be aloud to drink? How about military service?

  35. I don’t understand the point about “getting in the habit.”

    They still have class presidents and student council don’t they? Everything a sixteen year old needs to know about politics she can learn by watching Election.

  36. Umm, yeah I need to edit. Allowed should be aloud. English is only a second language, gibberish is first.

  37. Bob McCalister might be onto something. Should we delay the vote to make people want to vote? If people get something too easily they tend to disparage it.

    Perhaps moving the voting age to 25 would make more citizens want to vote when they’re finally allowed to?

  38. James Merritt,
    You buttress my point that the true purpose of voting is to keep the hoi polloi in a haze.

    (I don’t like traffic signals neither.)

  39. I have never understood the conventional wisdom on this issue. I saw Bill Maher call Russell Simmons to task on this on his show, and Simmons had no meaningful answer. I’m not suggesting that anyone who can currently vote be legally prevented from doing so, but by lowering the voting age and encouraging younger and younger people to vote, all that’s being made is an attempt to push what statistically has to be the least informed, most idealistic, most impressionable and least emotionally stable segment of the population into making choices that directly affect everyone. Why?????? After hearing a friend’s siblings discussing the last presidential election and following their conversation as they discussed voting based on what animal the candidate most resembled (no, they weren’t joking, I asked), I’m convinced that if we change anything about the process, we need to have some sort of required knowledge base. I don’t actually support that, there’s no fair way to do it, but encouraging folks like that to vote is absolutely unjustifiable.

  40. i’m puzzled about this notion that somehow, somewhere, there exists an electorate making decisions based on pure reason and faculty.

    politics are an emotional game.

  41. Dhex,

    I’m not sure if you were referring to my post or not, that notion wasn’t in what I posted, so if I’m off base, I apologize. But I’ll respond based on the assumption that you simply misread my post. No one makes decisions based purely on reason. However, there are many degrees of rationality, and the closer one gets to being purely reasonable, the better off and more stable the government becomes. Politics are emotional for many, a game for some, but when rationality is injected in place of that emotion to the greatest degree possible, the best result possible is reached. Teenagers are not overly rational and reasonable creatures, as we all know well.

  42. I leave all my decision-making to the authorities.

    The article contains a factual error. “In New Hampshire, girls as young as 13 can marry, as long as they have permission from their parents.” While technically true, New Hampshire also requires permission from a judge. How that ever works out I don’t know. Massachusetts age with consent is 12 for females and 14 for males. Mississippi has no age limit at all with parental consent, and it’s 15 for females without consent.

    Using that as the logical basis is faulty by any stretch. Otherwise it would be OK for females to vote at age 16 but age 18 for males.

  43. Ruthless says, “As current as you are, James, you need extensive remedial tutoring from the likes of me if you are, at heart, pro-traffic signal.”

    James says, “I said I didn’t MIND them, unless they were deliberately out of whack with a smooth natural traffic flow. I’ve never said, nor am ever likely to say, ‘Man, that corner needs a traffic light.’ Roundabouts sound interesting, though, sort of the minimalist version of the cloverleaf. And as far as repeating after you, I wouldn’t be very wild if I did that, would I? Have fun in the cellblock! Be seeing you! ;-)”

  44. This is a great idea, the sooner the age drops the better.

    Young people who work pay taxes on their income, are told to “act like adults” all the time, and are held to “adult” standards of accountability up to and including life in prison without parole and the death penalty in 17-22 states (17 have an age of 16, 5 more at 17).

  45. There’s a problem with affixing any kind of taxpayer qualification to voting rights here in the USA. The history of Jim Crow makes anything that smacks of a “poll tax” politically untenable. Even if it were scrupulously fair it would be defeated by those fear an unfair plan, whipped along by demagogues. Just look how Mrs. Thatcher’s “community charge,” an attempt to spread the cost of local government over all residents, not just what the Brits call “the ratepayers,” was renamed “The Poll Tax” by the opposition. After Maggie’s downfall new PM John Major abandoned it, but its unpopularity helped sow the seeds of Labour’s predominance.

    This is a lesson few politicians could ignore.

    Merely paying taxes isn’t the sine qua non of citizenship. 6-year-old Shirley Temple must have paid a hell of a lot, but I don’t think I’d like to have seen her at the polls. Given the choice of bestowing the vote on a 16-year-old who is emancipated from his parents and making a living, or on a twentysomething slacker living on the parentals beneficence, I might pick the teen. Slackerboy could still get shoved into a uniform and handed a gun, however useless he may otherwise be, so I’d still let him vote.

    We could exempt under-18’s from state and local income taxes. I don’t hold out much hope for letting them out of paying FICA or Medicare taxes, even if would make more sense to let them keep all the dough they earn so that they can afford to pay tuition at a college or tech school, leading to higher incomes to be taxed later. I wonder if 18-20 year-olds would take this deal: “We’ll move voting back to 21, but we won’t start taxing you as an adult until then”?

    (who, when 12 years-old, would argue with the
    candy-store clerk who tried to tax my comic book purchases, when current state law exempted dated periodicals from the impost.)

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