Tom Purcell: Change voting age to 16? Try 80!

Published 12:02 am Tuesday, September 22, 2020

San Francisco residents will vote on a measure in November to allow teenagers as young as 16 to vote in local elections.

That’s according to The Hill, which also reports that in recent years, two women in Congress introduced measures to lower the voting age nationwide to 16.

One argument for doing so is that 16-year-olds are permitted to work and therefore must pay taxes – but, unable to vote for political leaders, they have no representation regarding how their tax “contributions” are spent.

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Another is that young people should be able to help shape the world that they will run in the not-so-distant future.

Those are fair points. My response: We should raise the voting age to 80.

Youthfulness is wonderful – but not without its challenges where voting is concerned.
In our era of instant mass communication with millions through smartphones, the opportunity for misinformation to spread is incredible.

The younger one is, the more likely one is to take for gospel truth anything that appears in social media news feeds. Clips from hyperbolic cable news programs, which are more interested in ratings than in truthful discussion of our national challenges, are hurting our country.

In a representative republic, which requires an informed citizenry, the uniformed voter is challenging enough. But the misinformed voter risks giving political power to people who can do a lot of damage with it.

Critical thinking, which college education should teach, appears to be losing ground to uncritical “groupthink.” The younger and more passionate one is, the more one may be at risk of “getting facts wrong” and voting for silver-tongued politicians whose real goals are their own personal and financial gain.

An 80-year-old is much less likely to fall for such nonsense.

At 87, my father reads a print newspaper and does at least one crossword puzzle every day.

He reads two or three books a week. His mind is sharp.

He has seen a lot of silver-tongued politicians come and go – and a lot of once-popular ideas do a lot of damage to a lot of people.

He remembers the hopefulness of the War on Poverty, for example. We’ve spent more than $20 trillion on it since the 1960s, and though it has helped millions avoid poverty in terms of food and housing, it has given us too much poverty of the spirit – too many broken families and children with limited opportunities to reach their fullest potential as human beings.

At 87, your bones ache. You find yourself in long conversations about roughage in your diet and good prostate health. You’re in no mood for nonsense. You aren’t easily swayed by the passions of the moment. You don’t feel the need to faint at political rallies – unless you forgot your nutrition drink that morning.

You’ve paid way too many taxes and seen billions wasted on everything from unnecessary wars to pipe-dream programs that enrich lobbyists who get their pals in Congress to fund them more than they have done any good.

You know you may not be here much longer. All you care about is what you can do to make our country’s future better for your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And that is the lens you would use to evaluate candidates and ideas.

We would be better off as a country if our voters did more cranky critical thinking and indulged in less feel-good emotional nonsense.

Bring on the octogenarian voters!

Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. Email Tom at