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As a conservative, I’ve always been amused by President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 debate quip that, “If it was not for the elders correcting the mistakes of the young, there would be no state.”
Historically, it has been a tradition of most civilizations that the elderly should lead society because of their maturity, experience and crystallized knowledge. But does that logic still hold true in 2020?
This session, the Legislature is considering Senate Bill 4, which would amend the state constitution to lower the qualified voting age for Hawaii local elections to 16.
Proposals to lower the voting age to 16, both at the local level and nationally, have been a recurring topic over the last two decades. Rooted in a policy desire to increase the overall size of the potential voting population and also to give younger people a bigger stake in our representative democracy, the movement has seen increased traction particularly as young people graduating from high school face dismal job prospects and skyrocketing costs of higher education.
Lowering the voting age has been controversial due to assumptions by some that persons under 18 are essentially “still children” incapable of making mature decisions, and, more recently, the “Okay, Boomer!” trend on social media has caricatured Generation Z as a disrespectful, immature age group.
When SB 4 was heard before both the Senate Judiciary and Ways and Means committees, numerous individuals submitted testimony in opposition, many on the grounds that 16 was simply too young to be able to vote. One parent testifier to the Judiciary Committee remarked last year, “I would not have given my 16 year olds that much authority. If you senators would not do it for your personal lives, you should not do it for our state.”
Even among global investors, suggestions to lower the voting age has been characterized as a potential disaster. Peter Schiff, CEO of Euro Pacific Capital and an investor credited with being the only financial expert to predict the subprime mortgage crisis, reacted with alarm last year when the town of Brookline, Massachusetts, voted to lower their voting age to 16, characterizing it in a tweet as “a step in the wrong direction.” He went on to say “We would all be better off, including the young, if we raised the voting age to 30.”
But are critics reading too much into the possibility of giving a 16-year-old the right to vote?
Unlike prior generations, Generation Z was born into the Brainware Era, the period of time following the Information Age characterized by a totally digital, totally connected information society.
Previous generations acquired information or interacted with subject matter experts at a higher level of opportunity cost that involved some combination of parents being industry specialists, competitive selection for mentorship, paying for expensive education or seminars, or learning the hard way through experience.
And while all of these methods are all still effective platforms, it is intellectually dishonest to suggest that young people, with the benefit of social media and the internet, cannot access superior knowledge on their own initiative.
The only thing that denying 16-year-olds the right to vote accomplishes is suppressing excellent minds.
When a 16-year-old interested in international affairs can immediately go to YouTube and binge watch lectures by someone like Dr. Edward Luttwak, or go to Google Play and read e-books by Thomas Schelling, they are able to learn things that previous generations had to go to Ivy League schools or spend hours in a well-stocked public library to have access to.
For all those who say that 16-year-olds can’t be trusted to vote, we should be quick to remember that there are many 60-year-olds in Hawaii who don’t vote and haven’t voted their entire lives for some excuse or another.
When today’s “adults” cast aspersions on 16-year-olds voting, I believe this is less about maturity and more about self-projection of one’s former immaturity onto the new generation. Having been a gifted child myself, I for one am all for 16-year-olds voting; at age 16, I did my first ever TV interview with Fox News on the topic of drunk driving; and by age 18 as a voter, I was already a panelist on a BBC World Service radio program talking about international security.
People need to start voting younger in 2020 because there is so much more at stake that impacts them much earlier. For one, the economy is not as stable as some claim and young people are going to be affected by politicians they’re not even old enough to vote for.
Second, education in Hawaii is a serious crisis and everyone claims to be “for the keiki” but the students themselves are buffeted by competing factions who purport to speak for them. Giving 16-year-olds the vote would put students in a position to hold DOE accountable for things like failure to build locker rooms or any number of dysfunctions that today’s students are powerless to get relief from.
Lastly, climate change is happening and young people should be concerned about how this will economically, socially and even biologically affect them in decades to come.
The only thing that denying 16-year-olds the right to vote accomplishes is suppressing excellent minds and deferring the opportunity of young geniuses to have a say in our society. If the older generation refuses to correct and save Hawaii, then maybe it’s time for the teens to arise.
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