I no longer vote since I believe that those of us over 60 should defer control over the future of this country to the younger generations, those who will live far more of their years in the future than any of us old-timers. The only thing I ask in exchange is that the kids show a healthy respect for my future Social Security benefits. Other than that, the future is theirs. Yes, us old-timers have a lot of accumulated wisdom to share, but we should share through communication rather than control through voting.
This informal paper will detail my thinking on this admittedly rather extreme voting policy.
As a more minor, secondary point, I would propose raising the voting age to 25, under the theory that kids need several years of experience living on their own, out of the influence of their parents and the unreality of the academic world. Academia is a great opportunity to soak up knowledge and theory, but it is only the real world, working in a job, earning a paycheck, developing and sticking to a budget, taking responsibility for being a responsible member of the community, and struggling with the practicality of real life that really prepare young people for the heavy burdens of voting.
In short, I view the 25 to 60 age bracket as the sweet spot for voter participation.
I don’t expect any imminent mandate to enforce that range, but I would encourage those outside of that range to show a little more respect for the citizens in that range. I know that I will.
This paper is half about my own personal decision and half about a proposal for what I think other citizens should do. The main focus is my own decision.
It is not my intention to completely foreclose the political participation of those outside of that 25 to 60 range, but simply to assign them a different role of participation. The elderly should share their wisdom via communication. The youth should focus on completing their transition from their parents and academia to the responsibility of the real world. Both groups can and should let anybody and everybody know how they feel about all manner of issues. Their voices should be heard. But control should reside with those between the ages of 25 and 60.
I am 63 years old at the moment I write this. So my proposed policy directly affects me.
I last voted in 2014. I voted in every presidential election since 1972.
(I even voted in the presidential election of 1960 — when I was in the first grade. Okay, it was just a school kids’ mock election, but at least I was doing my civic duty!)
I did vote for Richard Nixon, twice — in 1972 and… 1960 (that first grade election!) But I’ve voted strictly Democratic party line in every other election. I consider myself moderate and independent. It just happens that Democrats tend to be more moderate, in my view.
Seriously, my main, primary, and only motivation for my new voting policy is deference to the will of younger voters. That’s it. Nothing else.
Voting is primarily about the future of the younger generations. Their future. They will be around long after I am long gone.
I’m a firm believer in fresh blood. Tired old dinosaurs don’t impress me. Sure, let the dinosaurs share their wisdom, but also let them then step aside after sharing that wisdom, and let them please, please, please refrain from attempting to control the future of the younger generations.
To be clear, none of the following are motivation for my policy change:
- Unhappiness with politics these days. Hey, I just moved to DC to be closer to the politics and policy action.
- Cynicism over politics.
- Unhappiness with either of the main political parties. I’m independent but have always voted Democrat (except for the Nixon thing.)
- Cynicism about Washington. I enjoy Washington.
- Too lazy to vote.
- My vote doesn’t count.
- I usually live in safe Democratic states and districts — so my vote doesn’t count. That’s true, but I’ve always voted, and I believe that every vote does count, even if in a more theoretical or abstract way.
- Lack of civic duty.
- Despair over the 2016 election. I have no complaints.
- Despair over the future of democracy in America.
- Pessimism about life, politics, democracy, or America in general.
Sure, there are problems and reasons for some to be cynical. In fact, I have written my own proposals for improving the system:
- Divide to Unite: Split the Democratic and Republican Parties
- Should We Dissolve the United States?
- We Need to Review, Revise, and Renew the Social Contract (upcoming)
- We Need a Declaration of Dependence (upcoming)
But none of that would dissuade me from continuing to vote if I had not yet reached my 61st birthday.
Again, my motivation, plain and simple, is to defer to the will and control of younger voters.
Who I’ve voted for
I personally am an outlier is many ways. I don’t consider myself representative of just about anything in America. As a result, I’ve always tried to vote for the best interests of the country rather my own narrow personal interests. Or for any group or identity group.
I also focus on voting as moderately as possible. My voting record has represented a centrist sensibility as a general proposition. Generally, this has meant that I ended up voting Democrat.
(Except for that Nixon thing. In my defense, in 1972 I shared Hunter S. Thompson’s attitude toward Humphrey. I didn’t vote for Nixon; I voted against Humphrey. What was my defense for my 1960 “vote” for Nixon? I don’t have any. Clearly it was a mistake. Can I get away with claiming “youthful indiscretion”??!!)
Spirit of optimism for the future
My decision to cease voting is not driven by pessimism or cynicism about the future. I remain optimistic about the future of democracy and politics in America. Not so much the status quo at any given point in time, but that we have a process which is dynamic and vibrant enough to continue steaming ahead despite whatever speed bumps we may encounter.
I also believe in evolution and constant change. That’s part of our political process.
And it is in the spirit of optimism that I do a lot of my writing, including those papers I just referenced:
- Divide to Unite: Split the Democratic and Republican Parties
- Should We Dissolve the United States?
- We Need to Review, Revise, and Renew the Social Contract of America
- We Need a Declaration of Dependence to Show Our Unity
Don’t we have a moral obligation to vote?
Nominally and normally, yes, I think we all have an obligation to vote, a civic duty, but I would say that obligation covers the age 25 to age 60 period. That’s my personal view. And my personal morality or ethics if you will.
I voted in all the presidential elections from 1972 to 2012. I usually skipped midterm elections and local elections since I moved around a lot and didn’t feel comfortable voting for local and congressional candidates for districts and states that I was unlikely to be living in for any extended period. I simply did not consider it morally correct for me to be voting for the future of communities to which I had no extended ties — it is their right to control their own destiny, not mine.
To be clear, I would definitely encourage everyone between the ages of 25 and 60 to vote. And unless you are a nomad like me, definitely vote in all local and state elections as well.
Yes, we all have an ethical obligation to vote — unless we have a good reason not to
A simple and direct formulation of my voting posture is that yes, indeed, we all do have an ethical obligation to vote — unless we have a good reason not to, and in my case my good reason is that I consciously, willfully, and intentionally defer to the younger generations.
What could be a better reason?!
Is my decision a cop out?
Believe me when I say that my decision to stop voting has weighed far more heavily on me than if I had just waltzed into the voting both and voted the Democratic party line.
A cop out is supposed to be an easy way out that avoids the need to make a hard decision or take a difficult action. My way has not been the easier way. Not by a long shot.
If you’re 25 to 60, you’re voting for me
Since I no longer vote, that means that the vote of every voter between the ages of 25 and 60 carries a slight bit more weight than if I was voting. Make your votes count.
I’m not asking people to vote for my own special interests, but to vote as I would vote, for the best interests of the country as a whole, regardless of their personal, group, or identity interests.
Genesis of my decision
For the past few election cycles, each election I would contemplate what I call my voting policy — how I decide who and what to vote for or against.
After the 2008 election I changed my voting policy to no longer vote for incumbents. My theory was that fresh blood is the lifeblood of American politics. I’ve never been a fan of hard, mandatory term limits per se, but my feeling is that at least some of us should be biased in favor of fresh blood as often as possible. Call it my vampire voting policy.
So, for example, in 2010 I did not vote to reelect my senator in New York, Chuck Schumer. And in 2012 I did not vote to reelect Barack Obama even though I voted for him in 2008. I have nothing against these guys and didn’t vote for their competition — I simply refrained from voting for those two offices when I voted in 2010 and 2012.
Ditto for 2014, when I voted for very few positions in New York since so many were incumbents.
I did vote for Kirsten Gillibrand for U.S. Senate in 2012. Technically, she was running for reelection, but her previous election in 2010 was a special election since she had been appointed to fill in the remainder of Hillary Clinton’s Senate term when she was appointed Secretary of State by Obama. My feeling was that Kirsten deserved a full term. My policies are firm but not rigid.
In 2014 I began contemplating the voting policy proposed in this paper. I turned 60 in 2014, so my over 60 rule wouldn’t technically have applied in 2014 anyway, but even if I had been 61 in 2014, my overall policy in such matters is to avoid sudden and swift policy changes, preferring to begin thinking of a policy change at least a year or two before making a final decision and putting the new policy in place.
By 2015 I was convinced that my new policy was a very reasonable thing to do.
But since it was such an extreme policy, I decided to give it another year before making my decision final.
When I moved from New York City to Washington, DC in August 2016 (a financial decision, to dramatic cut my expenses) I registered to vote anyway, knowing that I probably would not vote again, but wanting to preserve the option should I change my mind. I didn’t view such a change of mind as even remotely likely, but preserving the option felt like a rational move that would maximize the odds that I was both making the right decision and avoiding painting myself into a tough corner.
In fact, I left the door open to changing my mind until the week before the election in 2016. Even the night before the election I was asking myself whether this was really the right voting policy for me. I ultimately decided that when morning comes I’ll vote if I feel compelled in some way, otherwise I’d stick with my decision to stop voting since I was over 60 years old.
I felt comfortable with my decision when I woke up on election day — and haven’t looked back. No regrets. Absolutely none.
Besides, I generally live in safe Democratic states and districts, so the likelihood that my vote would change anything is like… zero. Not that I believe my vote doesn’t count — I do think every vote counts, but I don’t think anybody can argue that Trump or some Republican is in any office because of me and my non-vote.
Still, none of that pragmatism was even remotely part of my rationale for my decision. My decision was based solely on a passionate desire to cede control of the future of the country to the younger generations.
How can the elderly share their wisdom?
Those with wisdom have a wide variety of methods for sharing their accumulated wisdom, rather than through voting, including:
- Raising children. Instilling values.
- Talking to their grandchildren.
- Talking to their adult children.
To be clear, the goal of sharing is simply to pass along wisdom, but not to somehow force or coerce others into accepting this purported wisdom as an act of faith or out of fear.
When wisdom is shared, it is up to the free-will choice of the recipient to use their own judgment as to its relevance and suitability for what they, the recipient, perceive to be the relevant real-world context, especially when the future is at stake.
Granted, 60 years of age is a somewhat arbitrary distinction since there is no obvious distinction between ages 59 and 61, but somehow, life begins to change around that age.
When you’re 55, you have a full decade of work ahead of you before retirement.
When you’re 50, you’re in your prime, both physically and mentally.
When you’re 65 (or 66 or 67 depending on what year you were born), you are facing imminent retirement (if you choose.)
When you’re 70 or 75, you are either retired or have a job you really, really like, or you are financially unable to afford to retire.
But when you’re 60 (or 61 or 62 or 63), you suddenly have the imminent prospect of early retirement. Maybe you have a great job you really want to keep. Or, maybe you find yourself falling off the career ladder with no easy way to climb back up. Or, maybe you hate your job but are financially unprepared for retirement. In any case, at least the question of early retirement begins to pop up, even if you choose not to. It’s a very different feeling that when you’re 50 or even 55.
And for many of us, the sad truth is that our bodies and our minds are beginning to show their age, even if only a little frayed around the edges, but the early signs begin to pop up with increasing frequency. Life is trying to tell us that it’s time for a change.
Meanwhile, at age 60 there are now many millions of younger adults in the 18–60 age bracket who would dearly love to pick up the reins and help guide the country in a direction that makes more sense to them. Sure, they love their parents and grandparents, but they themselves are adults now and deserve to make a life of their own without the interference or control of their elders.
In any case, sure, you could shift this arbitrary 60 threshold a couple of years, like to 58 or 62, or even by five years to 55 or 65, but it wouldn’t change the essential concept that much. 60 just feels like a nice round and comfortable sweet spot.
And if somebody wants to strongly assert that 55 or 65 really is a better threshold age, I’m not going to put up a strong defense against it.
But I’d still argue in favor of 60. It gives the youth a better edge than with the 65 threshold, and it gives society the benefit of the prime services of those between 55 and 60.
Raise the voting age to 25
A minor part of my proposal is to raise the voting age to 25 for the simple reason of giving kids a few years out of school and in the workplace and living life on their own to mature with life in the real world before actually voting.
Sure, you could reduce this a little, like to 24, but three years feels like a decent amount of time for a young person to accumulate some real-life experience, rather than academic experience and experience living at home or in an academic environment.
Especially if we’re going to take the wisdom of older voters out of the equation, we need to assure that entry-level voters have some sense of real-life experience to guide their decisions.
Kids may have a lot of knowledge stuffed into their heads from textbooks and teachers and professors, but raw knowledge does not constitute wisdom. Real-life experience is needed.
To me, that’s the bottom line on voting: It’s all about experience.
Knowledge matters too. But experience is the main driver of quality voting.
That said, raising the voting age to 25 is not a mandatory, make or break component of this proposal. After all, kids 18–24 are only a small fraction of the full electorate, either way.
The younger generations today
Using the Generational Theory of Howe and Strauss, the youngest generations today are:
- Homelanders. Born after 2004. The oldest are 12 years old, still 6 years from voting.
- Millennials. Born 1982 to 2004. The youngest are 13 years old, still 5 years from voting. The oldest are 35, not quite coming into their prime.
- Generation X. Born 1961 to 1981. The youngest are 36, still not quite prime. The oldest are 56, well into their prime, and only four years left before hitting the age 60 threshold of this paper.
- Baby Boomers. Born 1943 to 1960. The youngest are 57, just three years short of the age 60 threshold. The oldest are 74, clearly elderly and clearly no longer in a position to assert authority over the younger generations.
- Silent Generation. Born 1925 to 1942. The youngest are 75, the oldest 92.
- G.I. Generation. Born 1901 to 1924. The youngest are 93, the oldest 116. Not so many are left.
Homelanders are not in the picture yet politically, but will be soon enough. The youngest will be able to vote in six years. It will be ten years before we have a five-year cohort of Homelander voters. Their first presidential election will be 2024. Their second in 2028. That’s when we’ll have an initial sense of who they are politically.
Millennials and Generation X are the primary, immediate beneficiaries of the proposal of this paper. A few Baby Boomers as well, but the focus is those younger two generations.
What are the prime years for quality voting?
Nominally, I’ll say ages 35 to 55 are the optimal, best, prime years for the quality of voter participation, but equally arguable ranges include:
- 25 to 60.
- 30 to 60.
- 35 to 60.
- 40 to 60.
- 25 to 55.
- 30 to 55.
- 35 to 55.
- 40 to 55.
Take your pick. I can live with any of those choices, although 35 to 55 seems to be the most rock solid, to me.
To be clear, by quality voting I mean that not only is the individual of legal voting age, but has enough real-world, real-life experience to be well-informed enough to cast rational and realistic votes, rather than merely voting the party line or voting strictly based on popularity or for whomever some preferred media outlet endorses.
But I will concede that the the full 25 to 60 year range is a reasonable target range for quality voting.
Setting priorities — whose priorities?
The first order of business in my proposed policy is that us older voters should not be setting the priorities for the country, the country that the younger generations will be living in decades after all of us older citizens will be gone, dead, and buried.
I explicitly want to defer to younger people in the 25 to 45 age group for setting priorities for the country.
Whose American values?
America does not have a single, well, and narrowly-defined set of values — American values. Even where values are common across many demographic groups there are differences in interpretations.
I actually have another research and writing project which I call In Search of American Values. It’s ongoing, but you can follow its progress.
In any case, the younger generations should have the opportunity — now — to promote values as they see them, even if they might conflict with the values of older generations.
Should there be a similar upper threshold age for politicians? That could get tricky, but I would say yes. Absolutely.
Personally, I am really tired of seeing old, out of touch politicians running the show.
But even if we can’t persuade older politicians to put themselves out to pasture — retire with dignity from the political scene, the least we can do is very aggressively promote the merits of public office and public service among young people. And the younger the better.
Personally I think the average age for U.S. senators should be closer to 40 than the 62 it was back in 2013 (according to Pew Research.) A target range of 35 to 50 would make a lot more sense to me. And a target range of 25 to 40 for the House.
And a target of 40 to 55 for the presidency makes more sense to me.
Again, it is not that we should throw away the wisdom and experience of older politicians, but they should share their wisdom by communicating it to the younger generations rather than seeking to control the younger generations.
I have no problem encouraging younger politicians to consult with older and wiser former politicians, and that would be my preference, but the priority should be on the younger politicians being in charge.
Should this proposed voting policy be mandatory?
I personally would not go so far as suggesting that all older voters should be stripped of their votes, but I certainly encourage them all to voluntarily adopt my proposed policy.
To be clear, this proposed policy is not proposed for me at all — it is my real policy for my own voting.
All I ask is that my Social Security be protected
As noted earlier, the only ask I have of the younger generations is that they preserve, protect, and defend my Social Security benefits. Do that, and they can see fit to run the rest of the country as they see fit.
Homelanders, you have your work cut out for you!
Maybe the current younger generations have gotten too used to a political system in which their parents’ and grandparents’ generations were running the country, so maybe we just need a much more concerted drive to send out a different message to the incoming generation, the Homelanders, who will be taking over as the next wave of teenagers over the next six years, to let them know that they are entitled to seize the reins of power in this country.
Ten years from now I don’t want to see any aging Baby Boomers running this country.
There’s no good reason that the entire U.S. House of Representatives can’t or shouldn’t be run by Millennials ten years from now.
First Millennial president?
I may write a separate paper on when we might see our first President from the Millennial Generation. Obama held a lot of promise for younger voters, but then let them down. The reasons are complex and confused, but I’d at least like to see more than a few Millennials throw their hats into the ring in 2020 and 2024.
But more to the point, I like to see aging Baby Boomers step aside.
Step aside vs. step up?
Maybe asking older political hacks to step aside is the wrong metaphor. Let them run if they want, but the real ask is that younger voters and younger politicians need to step up, be heard, be seen, and actively take up the reins of power.
If necessary, they should push older politicians aside, but certainly they should step up and start taking charge.
Isn’t this ageism?
Well, technically, maybe, yes, a bias against older voters and older politicians can technically be considered ageism, but I’m not suggesting that people be stripped of their votes or not be allowed to run for office, just that there be a bias in favor of younger voters and younger politicians. Fine, even such a limited bias would technically be considered ageism, but to me that’s a minor point, not a fatal flaw.
Besides, even if you want to call this a bias, its intention is to counter the much larger bias that young people don’t feel that their votes or voices are being heard or having an impact, for the simple reason that older politicians are entrenched and there is an unfair bias in favor of incumbents, long years of experience, and extended political and social connections, all of which leave younger voters and politicians at a distinct disadvantage.
Call my proposal affirmative action for young people!
But again, this paper is really simply an explanation of my own, personal policy rather than a serious proposal to exert a blanket level of control over the entire rest of society.
Still, I would at least encourage others over 60 to at least consider adopting my own approach. And to share this paper with others who are similarly situated.
And I would also encourage young people of any age to consider and promote the sentiments that I have expressed herein.
Value of merit
I’m a big fan of merit. Superficially, it would seem inappropriate to cast aside older voters and older politicians whose experience and wisdom has a lot of merit, but to me it seems even more inappropriate to cast aside the energy, enthusiasm, and fresh perspective of the younger generations.
Besides, a lot of the political success of older politicians is far less about true merit than incumbency, seniority, money, political machines, and connections.
Experience is a big factor, but raw years of experience is not a reliable indicator of true merit. A politician can certainly prove their ability to win elections, but that doesn’t say anything about the quality of their actual work while in office.
And I am not suggesting that we discard the merit of older generations, but simply that we value it more highly when it is shared rather than wielded like a club.
Special cases between 16 and 25
Some people believe that the voting age should be lowered to 16. I don’t have a strong argument against that other than my main argument that it takes at least a few years living away from your parents and academia to develop the level of pragmatism needed for voting. Personally, I don’t think voting is for idealists, especially young idealists. It should be 100% about pragmatism.
My age 25 threshold is based primarily on kids attending college from 18 to 22. Not everyone does that.
Some kids go off to graduate school. They may not leave the academic world until they are 24, 26, or even 28. Or they may stay in the academic world for the rest of their lives. I view these as exceptions. The goal is the good, not the perfect.
Some kids don’t go to college at all, going to work at age 18 or even dropping out and working at age 16. In some cases they will be wiser in a worldly sense at age 24 than those who go to college. But in other cases they may take a more dysfunctional path and lose out on the educational benefits of college to boot. Again, the goal is not the perfect, so I suspect that on average those without a college education still need those extra years until age 25 to become sufficiently pragmatic and at least somewhat enlightened.
Some kids go from high school into military service. In many cases that makes them wiser about pragmatism, but in a somewhat different sense than in civilian life. Age 25 still seems like a good threshold.
Some kids go to only two years of community college or vocational training. They will have a two year start on the four-year college kids, but their lesser education experience gets them started with a weaker intellectual footing, so maybe that more extended 20 to 25 period may be more needed for them. It’s so hard to say, and so dependent on the individual and their situation.
And on an individual basis, regardless of which of these paths a kid takes, they may be more or less prepared for the yoke of voting earlier than age 25, or even later, or maybe even never.
The problem is that judging individual voters on a case by case basis is not practical at this time.
Having a single, hard, one size fits all age threshold may not be perfect and may not be completely fair, but it may be the best we can do, for now.
That said, we could consider an appeal process whereby a young citizen age 16 to 24 could petition for younger voting based on verified experience and possibly knowledge, although the latter would be very problematic, as explained in the next section.
Education and knowledge requirements for voting?
Because of America’s history with slavery, enacting education, knowledge, and skill requirements for voting is still very taboo. Even a simple literacy requirement is strictly off limits, although it is impossible to imagine that any voter in this day and age could be considered responsible if they are unable to read well enough to be considered well-informed.
Instead, it seems more appropriate to simply presume that given enough years of elapsed time, the average American will feel responsible enough about their future to do whatever it is that they personally feel necessary to become literate enough to become a well-informed voter.
There’s nothing to do next, for me. My own voting is now in sync with this proposed policy.
Yes, I’d encourage other older voters to adopt it as well, but on a strictly voluntary basis.
And, of course, yes, I really want to see the combination of more younger voters and more younger politicians stepping up. Go for it! Just do it! You don’t need my permission but you do have my encouragement.