Young people should be running the United States, starting with the vote

A long line of voters wait to cast their ballots at the Wonderland of the Americas Mall in San Antonio late Friday afternoon, Nov. 2, the last day of early voting. Photo by Robin Jerstad for The Texas Tribune

It’s time for a new suffrage movement in Texas. As two 16-year-old men of color living in the Lone Star State, we understand that we’re the future, but our voices are currently left out of the electoral conversation. House Bill 512, which failed to advance in the current session of the Texas Legislature, would allow some 17-year-olds in Texas to vote, and though it would have been a good start, it didn’t go far enough; not only should voting be extended to every 16-year-old citizen living in Texas, but the ability to vote should be cut off at 70. Here’s why: 

1. Young people are already given big responsibilities. 

At 14, state law already allows most Texas teens to work full time and have wages withheld for taxes (in some cases, kids as young as 11 can work in Texas). And by the age of 16, we’re trusted to drive — one of the biggest responsibilities. Where Texans experienced 3,700 fatal vehicle collisions in 2017, exercising the right to vote rarely ends in injury. In fact, enabling young Texans to vote could do some good by teaching us not only about our civic responsibilities to one another, but also about our duty to stay informed. 

2. Young people are already proving that we care about our future.

During November 2018’s midterms, voting among young Texans (those ages 18 to 29) was up nearly 500 percent from 2014. In addition to young people, voting in our communities — those of black and Latino Texans — more than doubled from 2014 to 2018. This surge not only represented a state record for turnout in this age bracket, but when considered in the context of nation-wide activism among teens and young people, it demonstrates that we are engaged in many efforts to make our voices heard. 

3. There’s a big disconnect between the visions of America held by young people and old people.

We looked at the data about who voted for Trump in 2016 and decided that people over 70 are just way too old to vote. While voters over the age of 50 were more likely to vote for President Trump in 2016, young voters overwhelmingly did not (55% prefered Hillary Clinton to Trump’s 37%). 

We believe this disconnect between older voters and young voters comes down to different values. Younger Americans are more progressive about key issues like immigration and healthcare than older Americans. Though restricting voting rights in Texas to those younger than 70 won’t completely change the political dialogue between younger and older Texans, we know a democracy means that a lot of opinions across the spectrum should be taken into account, and feel that voters in their 50s and 60s still have a stake in the future of this state in country and thus should be allowed to vote. 

Acknowledging the cultural disconnect between young Americans and aging Americans, candidates who are over 70 should also not be allowed to run for president (notably, this would include Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and President Trump). 

To be sure, the U.S. Constitution says that most Americans should have the right to vote, including 70-year-olds, but let’s not pretend that people haven’t been kept from voting throughout American history. 

Voter disenfranchisement has not only been a powerful tool historically, but today voter ID laws and gerrymandering still make it difficult for people of color to vote — especially in states like Texas. Former felons (who in some states face modern-day poll taxes to begin voting again) are also disenfranchised in many states, including Texas. 

Last year, Crystal Mason was sentenced to five years of prison for voting during the 2016 presidential election while on supervised probation that made her ineligible to cast a ballot. Voter suppression is undemocratic, but since it’s a tool still widely in use, why not use it to curb the votes of 70-year-olds who already aren’t on the same political page as young Americans?

Realistically, at 70, you should be enjoying the final years of your life — spending time on your hobbies, relaxing and hanging out with your grandkids. But the future doesn’t belong to you anymore, so you shouldn’t have a say in it. 

At the end of the day, we think HB 512 would have been a good thing; extending voting rights to young people, even in the limited scope of this bill, is always positive. But we hope for the day when elections, and the laws governing who can vote in Texas, are more reflective of the people who have to live with the consequences of tomorrow. That’s why we advocate for lowering the voting age in this state to 16 and cutting off voting rights at 70. 

This op-ed as part of a workshop hosted by Austin Bat Cave, a local nonprofit that provides free writing workshops to teens and young adults in Austin.