Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Letter from California-May 23, 2004

In 1976, I was 7 years old and in second grade. It was a Presidential election year, and I had some pretty strong opinions about the matter. My candidate just had to win. I’d thought about it and had a solid reason to be pulling for James Earl Carter to defeat Gerald Ford and become the President of the United States.
His name.
James. Just like me. That clinched it.
Being 7, my opinion didn’t count for much, and I’m sure that my attempts to convince adults with my impeccable reasons for wishing I could vote for the man from Plains ended not in a Carter voter, but a tussling of my hair and an affectionate, “ok, little buddy.”
That story came back to me when I heard recently of an idea that’s afloat in the California legislature and co-sponsored by my very own Assemblywoman. It’s a simple, extraordinary idea: allow 14 year olds to vote in California state elections. To be specific, 14 and 15 year old would get 1/4th of a vote and 16 and 17 year olds would get ½ of a vote. Of course, they wouldn’t be able to vote for President or Congress or Senate, but they’d be able to vote for Governor and State Assembly and all the crazy California ballot propositions.
Now I know what you’re thinking, but actually, this isn’t the worst idea in the history of the world. For example, there was New Coke. That was a worse idea. Then, there was Neville Chamberlain giving Czechoslovakia to Hitler. That was definitely a worse idea. Then there was that time I tried to get rid of a hornet’s nest with a rifle, leading to about 400 hornets flying straight at me in unison, which made me take off running, trip over the rifle and wind up with the butt of the gun right in the bottom lip.
Actually, I think votes for 14 year olds is worse than that last one. I did get rid of a pretty big hornet’s nest and all it really cost me was a fat lip.
Politically, votes for 14 year olds would be worse than a fat lip and a big shiner in the right eye, administered once a day by a mean kid with a crew cut named Butch. Root Beer would flow in the water fountains of the public schools; the test to qualify for a driver’s license would be administered on your choice of Game Boy or PlayStation, with bonus points for the number of crazy killer robots you can gun down while trying to parallel park; grounding or restricting a child for any reason would be punishable by jail time, a fine or both.
So who are the people bringing this idea forward? Presumably sane, these folks have actually managed to remain gainfully employed as lawmakers in the Great State of California. Assemblyman John Vasconcellos from Santa Clara (can you believe he’s not from San Francisco?) is leading the charge to take the very little bit of dignity left in California’s democratic process and completely embrace the American Idol way of deciding things. He says his goal is simply to get more young people involved in civic life. “People who are engaged early stay on,” Vasconcellos said. “Experience is the best teacher.”
You’d think that a man who had just said something about experience being a good teacher would have looked back on the track record of the last time the voting age was dropped in this country. In 1971, the voting age for national elections went from 21 to 18. The theory went that as long as Presidents Johnson or Nixon could request the pleasure of your company for a scenic, one-year tour of beautiful Vietnam, you ought to be able to vote for the man whose name you’d be cursing while you were there. Tough to beat that logic.
Yet, looking back, just giving people the ability to vote doesn’t seem to have much connection with their actually showing up at the American Legion building on a frosty November morning and choosing the lesser of two evils. Since 1972, no group of voters has dropped out of the voting process in greater number than the 18-21 year olds. Since lowering the voting age, voters in general have shown absolutely no evidence of turning out in greater numbers. In fact, there’s a small decline in voter turnout since then.
Not letting silly little things like “facts,” “evidence,” or “logic” get in the way of his crackpot ideas, Vasconcellos does admit to hiding his true feeling. He admits that the part of his bill that gives quarter and half votes to the kiddies is just “strategic.” He says that if he expressed his true feelings on the subject, his bill “wouldn’t have much legs.”
I’d have to agree with him there. The more I hear his true feelings, the wobblier it all seems.
“In my heart, I think 16-year olds should be given a full vote.”
And in John Vasconcellos heart, as contrasted with the actual world in which we all live, they’d be so grateful, they’d pledge their lives to become model citizens.
Back in reality, more of them would probably be picking their favorite candidates like I did in ’76.
Tough break for Schwarzenegger.


Post a Comment

<< Home