Reprinted from the Press and Journal
Mark my words: Come January 20th, 2017, Hillary Clinton will be sworn in as the first female president of the United States of America. The media will swoon, the nation will rejoice (at least the half that voted for her), and Chris Matthews will get that old thrill of up leg.
Hillary is, of course, the wife of former President Bill Clinton. She was Secretary of State under President Obama. And she served as a senator during the Bush administration, supporting most of his key initiatives, including the ill-fated Iraq War. With that kind of experience, Hillary will continue many of the same policies, domestic and foreign, that have defined Washington for the past 20 years.
There is something new, however. During her recent campaign kickoff on Roosevelt Island in New York City, Hillary announced that if America sends her back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, she will implement “universal, automatic” voter registration for any citizen who turns 18-years-old. The crowd went wild over the idea.
At first blush, automatic voter registration doesn’t sound sexy. We live in a democratic republic, so it makes sense that citizens should be able to vote. But why the push for registering all 18-year-old citizens automatically?
In 2012, voters under the age of 30 voted for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by difference of 60 percent to 37 percent. It’s common wisdom that young people tend to vote for liberal candidates.
It makes sense: liberals use simple but personal narratives to recruit voters. While conservatives often speak of a higher philosophy, the left cuts straight to the point: We want to help people with redistributive policies.
The problem is that historically the young demographic have an abysmal voting rate. According to the left-leaning think tank Demos, 41% of young adults (age 18-24) were not registered to vote in the 2008 election.That’s a lot of untapped votes for Democrats. And Hillary means to swipe them for herself and others in her party.
You can see the potential windfall for Democrats if millions of impressionable teens are automatically signed up to vote every year.
Automatic voter registration may sound good but it introduces a new problem into American society: sanctioned irresponsibility. Ask yourself this question: Were you a responsible voter at 18? If you answer the question honestly, you’ll admit that as a high school senior, you weren’t prepared to make big decisions for the country. The only things that are on the mind of an average 18-year-old American is prom night, senior week at the beach, and preparing to go into the labor force or go to college.
Teenagers don’t understand the risks associated with a reckless foreign policy, why the ballooning federal debt is a disaster waiting to happen, or the proper role of government in society. They know some algebra, how to perform a keg-stand, and how to beg their parents to cosign for their student loans. These aren’t the people we want deciding the leader of the country.
An admission: at 18, I was far from a responsible adult. Legally speaking, I was no longer a child, but I sure acted like one. I was attending Harrisburg Area Community College and working at Hersheypark on the weekends. I wasn’t thinking a whole lot about my future. Instead, I hung out with girls, drank underage, and dabbled with marijuana. I was your typical American teenager, who could also pull the lever and help decide the next president of the country.
I don’t know about you, but looking back, it was a dumb idea to let someone like me have a hand in choosing the commander-in-chief. I had responsibility, but no conception of what it means to invest in the long-term health of the nation. Amongst my peers, I was not an outlier.
Instead of extending the right to vote to every 18-year-old citizen on their birthday, I have another proposition: Suffrage shouldn’t be awarded based on age – it should be based on whether or not you have a stake in society, meaning that you own property, are in the military, have children or, at the very least, pay taxes. That equates to anyone who has a job, pays rent, or has a mortgage. With a buy-in, you should have a voice in how government works. Without one, there is an incentive to milk the treasury for all its worth.
My idea isn’t new. Even the French classical liberal economist Frédéric Bastiat – no proponent of obtrusive government – warned that unbridled voting rights would lead to disaster. Writing in his famous essay “The Law,” Bastiat noted that exclusions to voting are justified because “it is not the voter alone who suffers the consequences of his vote; because each vote touches and affects everyone in the entire community; because the people in the community have a right to demand some safeguards concerning the acts upon which their welfare and existence depend.”
Bastiat was, at the time (mid-19th century), writing about children and women. Barring women from voting is outdated and cruel, but we wisely prohibit children from picking lawmakers. Kids don’t have the mental capacities or own enough assets to be fully vested in society. Does having 18 years on the earth really make that much a difference? How can we trust teenagers to vote but not to drink alcohol legally?
Now, I can already predict the pushback. Limiting the right to vote is called a lot of things: racist, misogynist, xenophobic, hateful, and intolerant. But here’s the thing: voting isn’t a right. It’s a responsibility. As Bastiat wrote, “the voter acts not only for himself, but for everyone.” Who in the world is more selfish than a high school senior?
If Hillary Clinton becomes president, she will pressure Congress into enacting automatic voter registration. Republicans will be too cowed by public perception to take a stand. The party’s head honchos don’t want to appear as angry reactionaries who prevent people from voting. So they’ll give in, effectively handing the White House, and eventually Congress, to Democrats for years to come.
But at least the jobless high-schooler held back his senior year will be able to vote.