Saturday, May 7, 2011

Suffrage at 16

Today I've been doing a little bit of thinking about the complexities of the U.S. legal system and the challenges we face. I came up with a fairly imperfect solution to some of the challenges this country faces. I am not totally convinced this is a workable idea but I'm going to throw it out there.

The biggest problem the U.S. faces is the public's desire for government services and low taxes. Because of this other government functions are often crowded out, suffer from major budget cut back or worse continue to function and contribute to the debt. Everyone wants low taxes so there is a very specific constituency there so I'm going to focus on the demand for government services.

When looking at the federal budget it is fairly obvious that seniors benefit the most from government spending. There is social security and medicare are the two largest government programs and they almost exclusively benefit seniors. It is not surprising the seniors get these benefits as it is well-known that seniors are the most likely people to vote.

In contrast, services that younger people demand are mostly education. Unfortunately our political system does not have much demand for education funding or reform. In addition, to education funding I would also add investments in science, research, and long-term infrastructure spending as younger people are more likely so see the benefits of these years down the road. That is not to say seniors don't care about education, investments, and other long-term spending its just their demand and self-interest in those services aren't particularly high.

Now how do we get young people to vote and create more young voters? We could mandate that people under the age of 30 must vote. However, this seems like it would lack enforcement or political will to implement. Another idea would be to add more eligible voters and lower the voting age to 16.

This may sound radical but the fact is 16 is an age where we start to give young people legal responsibilities, mostly by giving them drivers licenses. Would 16 year olds make the best voters? Probably not. However, that is also the age when kids can start dropping out of school. We could give more high school aged kids a bigger say in how there schools are run since they are more directly impacted then older age groups. Voting seem to be a very basic civic duty so perhaps we should start preparing young people for adult life before they reach the status as full legal adults. Honestly, I rather have 16 voting than driving anyway as a 16 year holds several lives in their hands behind the wheel.