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Should children have the right to vote?

Ruminations February 9, 2014

The right of children to vote
“I have some good news on voting rights for a change,” writes a Jordan Wilson of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), “preregistration of 16- and 17- year-olds, and same day voter registration on Election Day…” is being proposed in Massachusetts.

Now preregistration for “16- and 17- year-olds” is not the same thing as voting rights. But is this the proverbial “slippery slope?” Once we grant the kids preregistration, is the next step full voting rights?

Reading the 26th Amendment to the constitution, which granted voting rights to those 18 year olds and above, we see it says:

The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

The amendment tells us that we cannot stop those 18 years old and older from casting a ballot. A close reading of the amendment tells us that it doesn’t prohibit granting voting rights to 16- or 17- year olds – or for that matter, 14- or 15- year olds. Is it a good a thing to allow children to vote? Maybe not.

Historically, we know that the rationale of many 26th Amendment advocates was “if you’re old enough to fight in the armed forces, you’re old enough to vote.” This sounds good but it’s logically flawed. If one has the maturity level to become a good soldier it doesn’t necessarily follow that one has the wisdom and judgment to cast a ballot intelligently. In fact, just the opposite may be true.

The armed forces have traditionally selected young men from 18 to 23 or so as combat troops. Young men of this age are physically fit and mentally capable of being warriors. As young men age to their mid 20s and beyond, the warrior mentality seems to degrade – or at least that was the thinking in the military.

But now, neuroscience seems to have come to the same conclusion. They tell us that the human brain does not reach full maturity until well into the 20s with, perhaps, 25 being the average. “The frontal lobes, home to key components of the neural circuitry underlying ‘executive functions’ such as planning, working memory, and impulse control, are among the last areas of the brain to mature,” according to an article by Johnson, Blum and Geidd in the National Institute of Health’s Public Access. While the authors state that conclusive results are unavailable, there are some assumptions that we can make based on the research.

1. Young adults (18-25) are more subject to peer pressure than are mature adults; this may be good for warriors but bad for voters. Does this mean that, facing a liberal college faculty and liberal cohorts, the 18-25 year old voter was more likely to vote for Obama than his more mature counter-part? It is true that 18-29 year olds voted for Obama by a 34 percent margin in 2008 and by a 24 percent margin in 2012. How big a role did peer pressure play versus rational choice?
2. According to a Pew Research poll, a majority of baby-boomers now support smaller government with fewer services but while in their 20s and 30s, they favored big government with more services. How much of this change is a process of brain maturation and how much is influenced by other factors?
3. While Obama carried 64 percent of the 18 to 29 year olds in 2008, in 2012, 50 percent of the 29 and older vote went to Romney. Does this mean that through the process of brain maturation a number of Obama voters shifted in 2012? Or was the shift a reflection of Obama policies?
4. Author George Gilder in his book Sexual Suicide said that young men are barbarians and marriage civilizes them. Another way of saying that is that marriage matures young men. And how does that relate to politics? Gallup reported that in 2008 married voters supported Senator John McCain by a 12 percentage points over his Barack Obama margin while single voters favored Obama 30 percentage points -- 65% to 35%.

All of this doesn’t tell us anything definitive. Certainly there are mature adults who supported Obama and immature voters who supported Romney and McCain. But it does seem to trend the opposite way.

Maybe Jordan Wilson is exhorting Democrats, consciously or subconsciously, to increase the number of immature voters which will lead to more Democratic victories. And with the 26th Amendment firmly locked in, there is nothing we can do about it – in the short term, anyway.

Quote without comment
Jay Geidd, neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health: “We can vote at 18 and drive a car. But you can't rent a car until you are 25. In terms of brain anatomy, the only people who have it right are the car rental people!"

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