By Jack Cahn
Noticeably missing from ballot lists, however, are the millennials.
This isn’t due to lack of interest. Daniel Hernandez, 24, a Tuscon school board member who President Obama called a “hero”, attempted to run for the Arizona State Senate in 2014, but was denied because of his age.
Likewise, on the federal level, the constitution restricts those under 35, 30, and 25 from running for the presidency, Senate, and House, respectively.
In 2016 more than ever, these restrictions seem arbitrary and unfair. At a time in which young people have taken up roles as leading surgeons, lawyers, and entrepreneurs, the notion that they lack the maturity to run for political office is unreasonable.
And in an election in which the inflammatory Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for President and a convicted felon appeared on the Texas Democratic primary ballot, it is hard to argue that young people are uniquely immature compared to older candidates as to be banned from running for office.
Disqualifying candidates from public office without just basis threatens the foundations of our democracy and our value of free and fair elections.
For this reason alone, our government ought to amend the constitution to allow younger legislators to run for office, as a recent White House petition, which has garnered a few thousand signatures, advocates.
Doing so would be beneficial to our democracy for three additional reasons:
Better Representation: As of the 2010 census, 10 percent of Americans were 18 to 24, and almost a third were 18 to 34.
These young Americans deserve representation and are arguably better represented by those who share their backgrounds and perspectives.
Certainly, if younger politicians were allowed to run for office, millennial issues such as college debt reform, gun reform, and the war on drugs would be considered less fringe and more mainstream.
Less Political Opportunism: In recent years, opportunistic politicians have supported policies that help older generations, their primary voter base, at the expense of young voters, who tend to vote less frequentely.
These policies have included budget deficits that invariably saddle future generations with debt, irresponsible environmental policies that will leave millennials and their children with polluted air, water, and cities, and lack of investment in education or dedication to affordable college.
Allowing younger Americans to run for office will guarantee a group of legislators committed to the welfare of America’s future, not just its present.
Diversity of Perspectives: The latest research in management shows unequivocally that a diversity of perspectives improves decision-making.
Yet Congress is one of the least diverse governmental bodies with far less female representation than peer countries, and only a few millennial leaders.
Allowing those over the age of 18 to run for higher office would contribute to a more diverse set of elected officials and promote better policy-making in Washington.
Internationally, the practice of allowing young people to run for political office is widespread.
In Canada, Pierre-Luc Dusseault was elected as a Member of Parliament at the age of 19. Likewise, Wyatt Roy would have been ineligible to run for Congress had he been an American, but ran successfully to be an MP in Australia when he was 20.
In Sweden and Uganda, Anton Amade Abele and Proscovia Alengot Oromait became MPs at 18 and 19, respectively.
Likewise, 18-year-olds are eligible to run for mayor of New York City and other US cities including Holyoke, Massachusetts, where 22-year-old Alex Morse became mayor in 2013.
None of these cities have fallen apart as millennial detractors would have predicted.
Nor have these politicians seen any major controversy over poor decision-making.
On the contrary, young, local politicians like Syosset, New York’s Josh Lafanzan have been commended for their hard work and entrepreneurial approaches to policy-making.
The disenfranchisement of young people, then, is rooted more in fear than reality.
Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein is the perfect example of this fear.
In his book The Dumbest Generation, Bauerlein joins academics and pundits in painting a picture of young, self-centered egotists who will be this country’s demise.
This fear and pessimism couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Millennials are on their way to becoming the most educated generation in American history, and have proven themselves as leaders in academia and industry.
In Silicon Valley, they have disrupted businesses on Wall Street and Main Street, improving communication, healthcare, and technology.
Washington would be next up for reform if only young people could run for office; our country already has a backbench of young leaders from Arizona’s Daniel Hernandez to West Virginia’s Saira Blair who are brave, radical, and realistic enough to contribute to solving America’s toughest challenges in the White House and on Capitol Hill.
But they are being blocked from disrupting Washington by the same stagnancy and resistance to change that has incited anger and fueled political outsiders.
In this time of great global uncertainty, voters ought to rally against this government stagnancy and fight to allow younger politicians to run for office so that the group of those who will shape our future includes those who will live it.
Jack Cahn is the co-author of When Millennials Rule, and has served as a national leader of the Junior State of America, a civic activism organization with 10,000 members and 500k alumni. He was awarded the Scholastic National Gold Medal for Persuasive Writing in 2014.
RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.
Cover Photo Credit: shakey1694/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)