Why you should care
Because Grandma and Grandpa are ruining everything.
Sixteen years. That’s how much longer the average British voter aged 65 and older will live, according to one analysis, which means that’s how long they’ll have to live with the outcome of last week’s Brexit referendum. Since older voters are estimated to have turned out in huge numbers — and voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union — Britain’s graying generation is partly responsible for the biggest drop in the pound in decades, for the uncertainty in lives of millions of EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in the EU, and for bringing to power a group of conservative politicians who trafficked in racist rhetoric and outright lies to win.
There’s a decent argument to be made for denying suffrage to anyone old enough to collect Social Security.
So why do we even let old people vote? After all, there are minimum voting ages — 16- and 17-year-olds fought for the chance to vote in the EU referendum and were denied. Had that 1.46-million-member voting bloc been allowed to contribute, it would likely have swung the vote for “Remain” — 82 percent of them said they’d have voted to stay in the EU. When Scotland voted on its independence in 2014, 16- and 17-year-olds were given a vote, under the logic that it was their future being irrevocably altered. There’s a decent argument to be made for denying suffrage to anyone old enough to collect Social Security. Most are no longer working or raising children. Why should they create the future when they won’t be around to deal with the consequences?
Pragmatic, the idea is not. It’s hard to imagine any legislator introducing such a bill (we hear you, AARP!), or, for that matter, a court diluting or limiting the power of an older-person bloc. For starters, doing so would blatantly violate the U.S. Constitution, points out voting rights expert Nathan Persily: The 26th Amendment declares that voting cannot be “denied or abridged” on account of age, so long as the voter is 18 or older. And apart from that, such a proposal is mean and disrespectful; not all older people are shortsighted (we love you, Mom and Dad!). It also sounds a bit like millennial grousing. Instead of trying to dilute the power of an older voting bloc, why can’t young people turn out in greater numbers? Get thee to the polls, young people!
Outlandish though the idea of restricting the suffrage of elders is, a reasonable argument does exist that “there is bias against the youth vote in the system as currently constituted,” says Persily. Younger people tend to be more transient than older ones. Not necessarily in a bad way, mind you. Some are attending college and working summer jobs. Others are moving from job to job, or house to house, or partner to partner, in an effort to get settled and put down roots. Mobility, it turns out, is an important predictor of voter registration, and because young people move more, fewer are registered. Indeed, sometimes localities try to dilute the influence of college students by scheduling elections in the summer.
So why not make voting registration easier? In most countries, Persily says, voter registration is a state responsibility and the default status of citizens is “registered.” Most jurisdictions in the U.S., on the other hand, put the burden on its citizens to register. In 2012, the Pew Charitable Trusts estimated that 51 million eligible voters were not registered, a whopping 24 percent of the eligible population. A disproportionate number of those were young people.
Automatic voter registration is changing this fact — but in the meantime, consider this: Americans don’t get to vote in Mexican elections, and Canadians don’t get a say in who leads France, or whether France remains in the EU, or whether Paris’ arrondissements should be redistricted. The future is a country, and if you’re not going to be there, don’t expect to get to govern it.
— Pooja Bhatia contributed reporting to this story.