Review Classic: published on September 1, 1971, VOL. 89, No. 3

Gray Smith

     Intellectual Obituaries

In 1972, for this first time in history, all those between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one will be eligible to vote. That means that everyone currently enrolled in this University will be allowed to walk into the booth and make his marks, and his votes will be tallied right along with all the rest.

That is, of course, provided he has registered. Let’s pick a word that rhymes, a word like qualification, and talk about that.

The determining of voting eligibility presents a rather unsightly problem to this writer. For some time eligibility has been determined by age and the recent enfranchisement of eighteen-year-olds insures that we are bound to continue in that tradition which has managed to find some obscure justification in its own longevity.

There are two easily detectable arguments which support the eighteen-year-old vote. One is that eighteen-year-olds are much better educated and informed than in any past generation. This is almost indisputably true. That they are as well acquainted with political issues as were twenty-one-year-olds a generation ago is not a topic for serious debate. It follows from this that many of them are just as qualified to vote as are parents.

How much significance are we to attach to the fact that they are no less qualified than their parents? In fact, just how qualified is present voter who is over twenty-one years of age and thereby assured a minute part in the workings of his government? And how did we decide that he is so qualified?

That is, we have to ask ourselves just how much we have said when we make the statement that those between eighteen and twenty- one possess no fewer qualifications than those over twenty-one. For if the latter are not truly qualified, then there is no value in extending suffrage to the former.

The other argument which supports giving eighteen-year-olds the vote is more stirring but less rational that the first.

When a young man reaches the age of eighteen he acquires thought none of his own efforts the obligation to serve his country in some way; ordinarily he fulfills this obligation by serving a length of time in one of the branches of the armed forces. The claim is made that since he must surrender at least two years of his life– and conceivably all of it– to his country , he should have a voice in shaping the policies if that county.

But consider for a moment the implications of this proposition. What it says is that being in a physical and mental condition sufficient for participation in military operations indicated that this young man is capable of casting an intelligent ballot in the election of the leaders if this government. And it says nothing to those of us who deny that we have any such obligation to our country as mentioned above. Suppose the draft were abolished. Would that mean eighteen-year-olds would have to have their voting eligibility repossessed?

We have reached a point from which we are compelled to proceed. The point is sooner or later we have to start acting precisely what we mean when we say that someone is qualified to vote. If age is not really a valid determinant, we have just opened the doors of the voting ranks to several million more unqualified voters to supplement those who are already there. And I, for one, am not inclined to argue in favor of determination on the basis of age.

So what is the common denominator? To what do we turn? If we say that one is qualified if he has a thorough knowledge of the Constitution and process of government, we have missed the point. For one might process a Ph.D. in political science and able to recite the Constitution in several differnt languages; yet that would say nothing of his familiarity with the issues of the time or the stands taken by the several candidates.

on the other hand, if we deem voting qualifications to be knowledge of the issues  an candidates, I fear we should have  few votes to tally on election eve.

Nonetheless we have here a problem we must face in our own best interest.

The first step in rectifying situation is an understanding of precisely what we mean when we talk about voting qualifications.