Voting in the age of the young
November 7, 2012
Filed under Opinion Columns
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Can you trust a high school student to vote? Argentina has recently done just that. On Oct. 31, the Argentine government lowered the voting age from 18 to 16, joining Brazil, Ecuador, and Nicaragua as South American countries with voting ages less than 18.
The change in voting age will allow for an additional 1 million voters in time for the upcoming elections. It is widely speculated that this move by the current President of Argentina, Christina Fernandez, is meant to improve her party’s chances, as she has spent much of the last few years courting the youth vote.
It may be hard for us to imagine a world where those under the age of 18 had say in the government, after all, it was a mere 40 years ago that the voting age in America had been reduced from 21. That took a generation of disillusioned college students in the wake of the most unpopular war in American history to change.
So it might surprise us as members of a democratic society that certain South American countries have already enfranchised more of its populace than our country. Of course they tend to couple this right to vote with penalties for failing to vote, but as a result they have incredibly large voter turnouts. If it wouldn’t chafe the freedom-minded US citizens, our country might benefit from a similar system. Then again, it might simply be better the way it is. After all, if someone is too lazy to be a voter, they are double certain to be too lazy to be an informed voter.
This of course raises questions, is lowered voting ages a sign of a beneficent democracy bringing previously unheard voices into the political sphere? Is it an indication of the sweeping social changes placing ever-increasing responsibilities in the hands of the young? Is it the product of vote seeking politicians with the fortunate circumstance of being popular with young people?
Quite frankly it’s hard to say. So much of what takes place in the political sphere occurs for multiple reasons, many of which may not be apparent right now. In Argentina, at least, we can suspect the efforts of the leading political party that seeks to capitalize on the new voters and achieve sweeping victories in the coming elections. However, that may only be part of what motivates them.
Nevertheless I find myself applauding the decision. While the 16 and 17 year old Argentineans are spared the worst of the fallout of their political opinions, since they can’t join the military, they nevertheless have to live in the society created by the government, one which they previously had no say in managing.
Now I am not saying that we should allow children to vote, and there should be some cut-off age, but there remains a difficult question of establishing when a person should be able to decide certain components of their own future. Do they need to be an adult in the eyes of the law to suffer depredations at the hands of ill-managed government? No of course not, even infants and children who have virtually no control over their own bodies, let alone their lives, can still suffer during times of war or hardship.
However, in the case of America, I cannot see this country lowering the voting age any time soon. Our conceptions of youth coupled with a college-oriented society means that many of us believe a person doesn’t reach maturity until somewhere in their twenties, or even later. In fact, I believe we are more likely to see a lowering of the drinking age before the voting age. After all, if an eighteen year old can vote, smoke, and die in war, its something of a shame that he/she can’t do them all while drunk. Tongue in cheek aside, this has not stopped many of America’s youths from continuing a long history of rebelliousness and protest by flagrantly ignoring said drinking laws. However, the oddity of such rulings will have to wait for another time.