In San Francisco, Supervisor John Avalos proposes that 16 year olds should vote. In Cleveland last week, President Barack Obama suggested mandatory voting was a transformative idea worth considering. One can’t help but sense political agendas at work.
Despite Supervisor Avalos’ argument that 16-year-olds are old enough to drive and pay taxes, the real question is do they have enough experience and understanding of the world and government to vote? A question for the president, should we mandate that people vote who pay no attention to public affairs and have no desire to vote?
San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders unsettled Avalos when she asked him if 16-year-olds are mature enough to be allowed buy cigarettes and alcohol. If they have the reasoning and ability to make good decisions, then why not? Avalos objected. The key sentence in Saunders’ column:“To say that someone should have the right to vote, Avalos assured me, “It’s very different from saying someone is adult.”” (Italics by Saunders.)
The columnist also pointed out that if the issue was that a 16-year-old could vote because he or she is affected by city services, then Saunders herself, as someone who works in the city and is affected by those services should vote although she does not live in the city.
Similarly, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan questioned the wisdom of mandatory voting. Calling the mandatory vote idea “the worst and most mischievous political idea of the year” Noonan wrote, “Making those who don’t care about voting vote will only dilute the votes of those who are serious and have done their democratic homework.”
Saunders charged that the 16-year-old vote proposal was designed to allow “the left wing of the city’s left wing is to retain their ebbing power in City Hall.” Clearly, supporters of the idea believe 16 and 17 year olds will vote to support their agendas. These youngsters will still be in school under the tutelage of influential instructors and living at home where surveys show a great majority of youngsters follow parents thinking on public affairs and are yet to become independent thinkers.
I’m sure the president is aware of that old saying attributed to Winston Churchill, “If you are young and not liberal, then you have no heart; but if you are old and not conservative, then you have no brain.” Whatever the truth in that sentiment, conventional wisdom is that the young support the liberal position and statistics show for the most part, the young rarely vote. Mandate that they vote, suggests the president. Is it possible that the conventional wisdom occurred to supporters of the mandatory vote idea?
While we should want all to study public affairs and to vote when they are legally qualified to do so, the proposals here are motivated not so much as changes to enhance better government as they are to gain a political advantage.