One of the things that frustrates me when I listen to people running for office is when they make policy proposals that are either blatantly unconstitutional or have no realistic chance of ever being implemented. These proposals are occasionally worth exploring because it is worth asking why someone would propose such an idea in the first place. So today I would like to talk to you about a proposal made by a candidate for the Republican nominee for president in 2024, Vivek Ramaswamy.
Mr. Ramaswamy has proposed to raise the voting age from 18 to 25. Now there would be some exceptions to this change. A person in that age range could vote if they accomplished one of the following tasks. A person could perform six months of service either in the United States military or as a first responder. Alternatively a person in that age range could pass a civics exam. The one Ramaswamy has proposed is the naturalization test given to immigrants to the United States before granted citizenship. If none of these standards are met, then the person would not be able to vote until they reached the age of 25.
Ramaswamy’s proposal conflicts with the 26th Amendment which was added to the Constitution in 1971. The 26th Amendment says, “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”
The language there is very clear. According to the 26th Amendment, you cannot deny a person the right to vote on the basis of their age once they reach 18. In order for Ramaswamy’s proposal to be enacted it would require a Constitutional Amendment which would take two-thirds of each chamber of Congress and then three-fourths (or 38 out of 50) of the state legislatures to adopt it. To put that in practical terms, it means that Ramaswamy’s proposal has about as much chance of being adopted into law as you have of winning the lottery.
So why propose this? Politics. Ramaswamy is running in a Republican primary and Republicans are losing the youth vote badly. According to data from the website Statistica among millenials (people it defines as being born between 1981 and 1996, in the interest of full disclosure that would include me) only 21% identify as Republican. That is six points lower than the number of self-identified Democrats in that group. That is not great for the Republican Party but the numbers get worse when you look at Generation Z. Gen Z (defined as people born between 1997 and 2012, who would be the generation hit by Ramaswamy’s proposal since a person born in 1997 would be 25 or 26 today) we see a 14-point gap with only 17% of that generation self-identifying with the Republican Party. The data is even worse for Republicans if you move beyond party ID and look at exit poll data from 2022. According to Edison Research National Election Pool exit poll data 63% of people under 25 who voted in 2022 cast their ballots for Democrats.
You might think that this does not matter. Historically, young people do not vote. The problem for Republicans is that this is changing. The percentage of young people voting has increased dramatically over the last couple of election cycles. Youth turnout was always higher in presidential elections but it has really increased in midterm elections. The two highest percentages of the youth vote in midterms were the most recent ones: 2018 and 2020.
It is very tempting for partisans on both sides to view people who vote for the other party as stupid. When you feel very strongly in favor of a party, it can be very hard to accept that someone else might have good reasons for opposing you. It is fairly common. This attitude is found in Ramaswamy’s defense of the proposal. He has said that civics education is poor and that this would stir more civics education among young people. But why only focus on young people? I am a civics educator but I am also a member of my community and an active church goer and because of my job I get asked a lot of questions about politics and government in those realms too. So trust me when I say that civics knowledge is low among people of all age brackets. If you do not believe me than I can only assume that you do not have a Facebook account or have never had Thanksgiving dinner with that uncle. Ramaswamy does not propose that everyone be required to take a civics test. Why not? Because older Americans are voting for Republicans. To go back to that Statistica data, we see that among Gen Z, Boomers, and the Silent Generation that there are more Republicans than Democrats.
In an ideal world we would try and reach out to our political opponents and convince them of the rightness of our policy proposals. We would have discussions and debate and compromise. That is ultimately what democracy demands of us. What we should not be doing is trying to make it harder for our political opponents to vote. This proposal is not going to be enacted even if Ramaswamy gets elected president, but it is disheartening that he believes that proposing it in the first place is going to help him with voters.
David Searcy holds a master’s degree from Oklahoma State University and a PhD in political science from Southern Illinois University.