Let Kids Like Scott Walker Vote
Today's mini-flap was a supposed claim by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker that he had voted for Ronald Reagan way back when, which caused a bunch of liberals with apparently nothing better to do to get all "gotcha" on him because he was a teenager -- 13 and 17 -- during the two Reagan elections. It turned out the whole story probably stemmed from a reporting error.
But I'll take advantage of the news hook to remind everyone: Scott Walker should have been allowed to vote for Ronald Reagan!
Certainly in 1984 (when he was 17) and probably in 1980, too.
Let me put it this way: One of our candidates for Governor of Texas has, I recently learned, an internship program open to high school kids (I learned it because my youngest and one of her friends, both in 9th grade, applied for it). No one blinks if high school kids, or even younger people, gets involved in campaigns. They can walk precincts, phone bank, stuff envelopes and all the rest of it. For that matter, they are free to donate money to campaigns, and they're certainly free to attempt to convince voters to support the candidates of their choice.
That's pretty backwards. All of those activities are far more advanced than voting. Moreover, all those activities are more important to the outcomes of elections than casting a simple vote.
So why is one thoroughly uncontested and uncontroversial, while the other is banned?
The answer is because it was set up that way when voting started. If instead every citizen received the franchise at birth, we would all think it totally sensible for parents to vote for their kids, and then gradually (depending on the family's choices) transfer the responsibility to those growing citizens.
I'm not for vote-from-birth, although the Lockean argument for it seems surprisingly strong. But I've been talking about teenage voting for a few years now, and I've yet to hear a sensible argument against it. Yes, some teens would vote foolishly; lots of adults vote foolishly, and we quite properly don't deny them the vote. Yes, many teens would simply echo their parents, but plenty of adults defer to others when it comes to voting -- and actually, there's nothing wrong with that, either.
Meanwhile, kids would have an incentive to really start learning about the political system, since they wouldn't be told that their views don't count. They also might get in the habit of voting, a habit that might stick.
I don't know whether Walker was an eager young teen conservative who would have voted for Reagan if allowed or perhaps not interested in politics at all. I say, however: if high-school kids, maybe even middle-school kids, want to vote? Let 'em.
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(Jonathan Bernstein covers U.S. politics for Bloomberg View. He is co-editor of "The Making of the Presidential Candidates 2012." Follow him on Twitter at @JBPlainblog.)
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