I guess it’s time to cap the voting age — at 65

In 1971, the United States ratified the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. In retrospect, that may have been a mistake.

The idea, in those Vietnam years, was that 18-year-olds, being old enough to be drafted, to marry and to serve on juries, deserved a vote. It seemed plausible at the time, and I myself have argued in the past that we should set the drinking age at 18 for the same reasons.

But now I’m starting to reconsider. To be a voter, one must be able to participate in adult political discussions. It’s necessary to be able to listen to opposing arguments and even — as I’m doing right here in this column — to change your mind in response to new evidence.

But now the evidence suggests that those who ratified the 26th Amendment were looking at the wrong end of the age range. Because not only are people under the age of 25 too incompetent to vote, according to USA Today columnist and conservative law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds, so is everyone over the age of 65.

Consider Florida, a swing state whose 29 electoral votes could very well determine who becomes our next president, and where 19% of the population is over the age of 65 — four and a half percentage points higher than the national average. While I’m sure the state of political discourse at Florida’s twelve state universities leaves much to be desired, the political discourse in its innumerable retirement communities and assisted living centers is positively appalling.

I mean, just look at these senior citizens watching the 2008 presidential debates with Wyatt Cenac.

[iframe src=”http://media.mtvnservices.com/embed/mgid:arc:video:comedycentral.com:050e9e46-ed01-11e0-aca6-0026b9414f30″ width=”512″ height=”288″ frameborder=”0″]

This isn’t the behavior of people who are capable of weighing opposing ideas, or of changing their minds when they are confronted with evidence that suggests that they are wrong. It’s the behavior of set-in-their-ways fogeys — a characterization that Cenac, perhaps unconsciously, underscores by not reporting their names because, he implies, they are too senile and irrational to be responsible for their actions. And senile people shouldn’t vote.

Senior College Student, via Memes.com

Senior College Student, via Memes.com

And this is in a retirement community, where — alarmingly — the seniors are supposed to be our learned elders from whom we draw our wisdom. But the problem isn’t just inside the confines of these communities we send our parents and grandparents to. It’s actually worse, extending all the way up the highest echelons of government, where a 79 year-old Supreme Court justice has spent the better part of the last decade railing against…well, it’s not entirely clear what he’s railing against, but it’s had something to do with jiggery-pokery and argle-bargle.

As Reynolds notes, students’ demands to be “treated like children again” actually harken back to a time in which colleges stood in loco parentis (in the place of parents), regulating students’ social lives, sleeping hours, organizing and speaking. And if students really want to be treated like children again, he points out, it isn’t all that absurd to take their voting rights away. Children don’t vote.

Well, okay, I guess. But the same applies to seniors. Those who are too set in their ways to handle different opinions are too stubborn to participate in politics. So maybe we should set a cap on the voting age at 65, an age after which, one hates to admit, maturity beings to dissipate. It’s bad enough to have to treat adults like children. But it’s intolerable to be governed by adults we treat like children. People who can’t discuss Halloween costumes rationally (looking at you, bubbe) don’t deserve to play a role in running our great nation.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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39 Responses to “I guess it’s time to cap the voting age — at 65”

  1. UFIA says:

    That would be fine, but what about the republican party? Wouldn’t that give us a one-party system?

  2. doujindip says:

    Sorry, you are right. I’ve been in a really cynical place lately. I will try to do better in relation to being helpful rather than just sarcastic and caustic.

  3. doujindip says:

    As an atheist, I detest what Kim Davis and her ilk are doing. I am concerned that we on the left do not repeat the same mistakes and attempt to control thoughts and speech to a degree that is oppressive. We can and should do better than the other side. If we don’t, it just becomes one big ‘deeply offended’ pissing contest.

  4. Johnathan Pertolick says:

    “This is so hurtful…there should be a trigger warning for seniors at the top of this article and we should create a safe space for them to be able to express their distress….Oh wait, sorry, I thought for a minute we were talking about young progressive snowflakes.”

    Why not? Conservatives already mandate “Christian Trigger Warnings” all over science text books and classrooms.

    “Conservative Trigger Warning: This class teaches evolution which does not conform with Politically Christian (PC) ideology”

    I think conservatives are just mad that their own playbook is being used against them.

    They’ve been fighting for decades for “Safe Spaces for Christians” and now that liberals are demanding “Safe Spaces away from Christians”, NOW suddenly conservatives have a huge problem with the very tactics and abuse they invented.

    Sorry, but conservatives have been nannying their children in ideological religious echo-chambers for decades, protecting them from the horrors of science and philosophy, demanding that their precious little evangelical children NEVER get challenged in school.

    Here’s a conservative PC (politically christian) safe space fight from a decade ago: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selman_v._Cobb_County_School_District

  5. 2karmanot says:

    Jon, I am a great admirer of your snark finesse, after all, satire is the greatest enemy of conservative posturing, rendering their portentous babble to the equivalent of comedy. Well done sir!

  6. Moderator3 says:

    Jon took an article about young people not being allowed to vote and changed the wording to seniors not being allowed to vote.

  7. nicho says:

    No. Don’t have time to hop all over the Internet reading articles. If there’s some joke involved, please let us in on the joke.

  8. FLL says:

    In my comment above, I was only talking about the linked video from the Reynolds article, the one about the Yale student yelling at her headmaster. I think the situation at University of Missouri is completely different because at Mizzou there has been ongoing racist harassment of black students, and I agree with you that Mizzou students have a right to protest that. That wasn’t the case at Yale, where the headmaster’s wife just emailed her students and asked for a thoughtful discussion about freedom of speech regarding Halloween costumes. You didn’t mention Mizzou in your post above. I thought that was the topic on a previous thread.

  9. MoonDragon says:

    The complaints expressed by Reynold with respect to the raving disrespect displayed by the Yale students could easily be applied to behavior displayed at Tea Party rallies. When he compares the calls by students for safe spaces (which I interpret as environments in which they don’t feel physically as opposed to psychically threatened) as being demands that mommy and daddy make the mean people go away, I must wonder how he assesses the demands of the anti-immigration groups that Big Uncle Sam act in a way that the borders be secured to protect them from the bad people who will not only hurt them, but change the nature of “real American” culture. Is he saying that much of the Republican base should also be excluded from voting?

  10. Jon Green says:

    What these Missouri students are doing is very different from college students refusing to read certain books or attend certain classes because they make them feel bad. These students are protesting against an institution they feel has created a culture openly hostile to them. And the terms of protest are much different than the terms of academic discussion.

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  12. mf_roe says:

    Animal Farm

  13. Moderator3 says:

    Did you bother to read the linked article?

  14. doujindip says:

    This is so hurtful…there should be a trigger warning for seniors at the top of this article and we should create a safe space for them to be able to express their distress….Oh wait, sorry, I thought for a minute we were talking about young progressive snowflakes.

  15. FLL says:

    Well put. Life in general is not a safe space. I think it was Hellen Keller who said “life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

  16. nicho says:

    We need to get over the “safe space” nonsense. What people need to learn as, or if, they grow up is that no space is “safe.” Every place has risks, threats, challenges, opposition. You need to learn how to confront or deal with that. Thinking that there is some sort of walled garden where you’re free from challenges is childish.

  17. sukabi says:

    Isn’t Reynolds one of the “shining lights” on the right who have been encouraging, advocating, and imploring conservative leaning students to challenge, threaten and basically abuse professors and material they deem liberal?

  18. sukabi says:

    I would like candidate competency, literacy, and drug tests. and make them take the same citizenship knowledge tests that folks applying for citizenship take.

  19. FLL says:

    I saw that from the beginning and I agree with your point about age restrictions. I just went further and watched the “shrieking student versus headmaster” video out of curiosity, hence my comment above.

  20. FLL says:

    I’ll comment on your satire of Reynolds’ article. Reynolds arrives at a silly conclusion by generalizing about all students in the 18-21 age range. On that point, I agree with you, Jon. Out of curiosity, I watched the video of the confrontation between the Yale student and the headmaster. The headmaster was of the mind that freedom of speech was valuable in preparing students for American society. He’s right. The First Amendment belongs to everyone, not just those who can shout the loudest, and the “shrieking student” in the video needs to get used to that. Your thoughts, Jon?

  21. fry1laurie says:

    Knowing that seniors overwhelmingly support Social Security, what a way to destroy the program from under the feet of the very people who need it most.

  22. nicho says:

    Maybe we need to institute an intelligence test for candidates. That would solve a lot of our problems.

  23. BeccaM says:

    I think you needed some #satire tags, Jon. People are reading and reacting to your post and the one like to Reynolds’ article is lost in the haze of other links.

  24. Indigo says:

    Okay, I missed the obvious. It was the riff on Floridians that threw me off.

  25. Jon Green says:

    (I copied Reynolds’ article word for word and then swapped out the argument. That’s the joke. As Don said above, the point is that indiscriminate age restrictions on voting are dumb.)

  26. Don Chandler says:

    You think the article is singling out Blacks? Students are angry. The police issue is national. Back in the Vietnam era, the students were also angry. Passions fly. I think the author is crazy.

    Wanted to say, the picture told me something the article didn’t.

  27. Indigo says:

    I’ve read the article three times now. Maybe I’m missing something (that happens more than I’d like) but at best it seems like it’s either a) the product of a very foolish professor or b) an Onion like satire. As angry professors go, it sounds likely. As satire goes, it’s not all that clever. So I’m standing by my assessment of angry old coot running off at the keyboard.

    Similar arguments were made in the late 1960s about us dirty hippies. So what? Apparently times don’t change, the people acting out however, get old and young ones come along. Okay.

  28. Don Chandler says:

    I think you are an evil genius ;)

  29. ggm281 says:

    Yeah, get a little perspective on aging. Your proof of thesis statement looks to be in their 70’s with several over 80.
    Perhaps competency tests at the polls for people at all ages and stages?:)

  30. Don Chandler says:

    What’s to read at USA Today? You conveyed the message fine. Keep voting at 18 — to death. Young people need to learn and get engaged and older people don’t need to feel less important.

    I think the real problem with the older generation is that dementia and Alzheimer’s are a big problem. People live longer because of medicines but they don’t exercise the brain to maintain cognitive skills. This is not true of all older people. Some are great intellectual role models. And the fact is, some kids are younger than 18 and possess both interest and ability to process politics and life…don’t want to make them wait until 24! The net is likely causing some mob mentality. That’s the problem. They need to conquer the troll within them.

  31. Butch1 says:

    The conservative professor can stuff it. I, being sufficiently over 65, liberal and thoroughly with all my wits about me, do not agree with his opinion. He may fear that we, on the left will vote other than how he would like and cutting our vote may eliminate that chance. On the other hand it would also eliminate many right wing conservative voters as well.

    This is a right we have and his opinion is not warranted.

  32. Jon Green says:

    Again, folks, can’t stress this enough. Read Reynolds’ article :)

  33. Doug105 says:

    Some kind of political literacy test, ya that will go well.

  34. devans00 says:

    I could get behind this idea if the same standards were applied across all ages. Some 18 year olds are engaged and ready to vote, so it doesn’t make sense to make chops by age.

    If there was a way to test a minimum amount of political knowledge, without it being a secret way to help Republicans win, I’d be all for it.

  35. nicho says:

    Fine. Take away our right to vote. Watch voting participation drop to single digits. Oh, and then we won’t have to pay any taxes. No taxation without representation. Works for me. Our electoral system is totally corrupt anyway. In Nov 2016, we’ll get to vote for whichever corporatist warmonger we consider the lesser of two evils. So, I’ll pass on voting if it will put more money in my pocket.

  36. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    If the voting age was capped at 65, the GOP would lose a lot of their base.

  37. Indigo says:

    Okay, I hopped over to USA Today and read the article. I didn’t see a whole lot of coherence there, more of an old fogey ranting than anything else. I will say this, the law professor in question produced a reasonably comprehensive catalog of things-that-are-wrong with young folks today. He left out tattoos though, so I don’t think he’s done any field research on the topic. As a rule of thumb, he did a fine job of portraying exactly what’s gone off the rails in the Law School at the University of Tennessee.

  38. Jon Green says:

    Hey guys, *highly* suggest you hop over to USA Today to read Reynolds’ article :)

  39. Naja pallida says:

    No matter which way you want to twist it, the solution will never ever be to make it so fewer people can vote. The only path forward is education, to make it so more people know enough to be involved in a meaningful way, and then vote based on things that actually impact them.

    That being said, I’ve long been a proponent of merging the age of consent, drinking, driving, voting, and military enlistment ages. If you’re old enough to go shoot foreigners in the name of our country, you’re old enough to drink a beer. If you’re old enough to participate in the civic responsibility of voting, then you’re old enough to make choices for yourself as well.

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