Inspiration for these columns often has many fathers – something you read, something you see, something you hear. I was watching an episode of David E. Kelley’s television dramedy, “Boston Legal,” and one of the central legal issues concerned a guest character on trial for violation of election laws – she had voted despite not being of legal age (the young lady was 17 and talked like a Harvard law graduate).
The central question asked, “Why can’t 17-year-olds be allowed to vote?” made me think (extensively between Viagra commercials and trailers for the upcoming Leonardo DiCaprio movie).
Why CAN’T 17-year-olds be allowed to vote? Other than it’s not legal at this time …
Lord help me, but I could NOT think of one substantial, cognitive reason against such a proposition. In an age where voter participation in this country has steadily decline like most folks’ 401k plans, an infusion of energy into the process would probably be a good thing.
In the show, the prosecution used the tried-and-true (but tired) argument, “They’re just kids!” However, in SO many ways, 17-year-olds are as adult as any of us – they get start families, decide on their own educational future, earn livings and make their own decisions. Choosing who will lead them ought to be among those.
As more than one-third of the United States individually consider this procedural change, let’s look at what a 17-year-old man or woman CAN do:
- they can hold permanent employment and earn a steady paycheck (this age bracket earns and spends in excess of $130 billion annually)
- they can sign binding contracts for purchases, etc. (buy a car, rent an apartment, get credit cards)
- they can get married without parental consent (at least in in most states … and we know they can easily begin families)
- they can file tax returns and either pay income tax or get tax refunds (the taxation without representation argument was made in the show)
- they can be designated as heads of households
- they can get arrested and be tried as adults
In the past, 17-year-olds joined the armed forces and fought for this country. That used to be the firewall between granting the privilege to vote and keeping 18-year-olds out of the loop (“If you’re old enough to die for this country, you should be able to vote”). Not that barrier exists for the age of alcohol consumption.
At 17, people are far better informed than in any of time in our nation’s history. The access to positions, biographies and all other high definition political matters is limitless. Meanwhile, too many of their parents vote from complete ignorance which is almost a crime in itself; such a practice defeats the purpose of representative democracy when you have no clue about any of the candidates OTHER than party affiliation.
Lowering the voting age is not lowering the standard of those making our political choices. Adults do that fine and dandy all by themselves, and, in many cases, and have not done the best job possible in choosing the country’s leaders (federal, state or local). Judging by the enthusiasm generated by this year’s presidential campaign, some of us old foagies could remember a thing or two about why the process is vitally important. Adding a different set of eyes cannot be a bad thing for our democracy.
Thank Goodness I wasn’t watching “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?” instead.