Do We Really Think So Little of the Value of Voting That We’re Willing to Let Children Do It?

Demonstrators gathered outside Fargo City Hall on Friday, Sept. 20, as part of the global climate strike. Kim Hyatt / The Forum

Not so long ago, we had a rollicking national debate about a new health care policy – the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as most call it. Among its most controversial provisions was a mandate that insurance companies continue coverage for the “children” of their insured up to the age of 26 years.

I put “children” in scare quotes because, c’mon, people who are in their 20’s are not children anymore. They are adults.

Anyway, I was thinking about that debate when I read that a Massachusetts city, Brookline, is seeking permission from the state government to let children as young as 16 vote in elections:

BROOKLINE (CBS) — The town of Brookline is seeking approval from the state to lower the voting age to 16. The decision was approved by a 142 to 71 vote in a town meeting Thursday night.

“These elections directly impact these young people,” said board member Raul Fernandez, who is in favor of the idea. It would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections and make them eligible to become a town meeting member if they were registered.

“At the age of 16, they can start working and paying taxes on that work,” said Fernandez. “There’s no reason why these young people should not have a say in our politics and actually giving them a say in our politics will make us even better.”

Brookline actually isn’t the first city in Massachusetts to do this. The City of Sommerville sent in a similar request earlier this year.

I’m confident that many of these people supporting a drop in the voting age also supported the insurance mandate mentioned above.

How they reconcile these positions is beyond me. If you believe twenty-something “children” need to be on their parent’s insurance policy, why would you think people far younger than that should be able to vote?

To further illustrate the hypocrisy, consider that very few of those in favor of lowering the voting age are likely to support, say, lowering the age at which a person can legally purchase and use tobacco. Or marijuana, where it’s legal.

Are we going to let start letting 16-year-olds access, and even participate in, pornography? Should they be allowed to sign up for the military? Should we get rid of the child labor protections for 16-year-olds and adjust our compulsory education laws?

Because if a 16-year-old is wise enough and mature enough to vote, why can’t they choose to smoke a cigarette and engage in performative sex for pay? Or buy a gun?

Speaking of sex, would we also have to change our laws that prevent adults from having sex with minors? Again, if someone is old enough to vote, how can we say they’re not old enough to control their own sex lives?

For those who would argue that voting is different from these other activities, I would say that you’re diminishing the importance of voting. Smoking and sex are activities with genuine consequences for the individual who chooses to engage in them. That’s why we limit the ability of children to make those decisions.

Voting, too, has very real consequences, whether we’re choosing a mayor or a governor or the President of the United States.

I realize that this whole listen-to-the-children thing has become fashionable, particularly given the rise of climate change activist Greta Thunberg. Still, we need to remember that children are children. The idea that they are fonts of some purer, unadulterated wisdom is nonsense.

And yes, 18-year-olds aren’t all that wise or experienced either, but if anything, that’s an argument for raising the voting age.

If 18 is maybe too young to vote, 16 is definitely too young.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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