A college professor who holds himself out as an expert in citizenship and public affairs has announced his belief that the voting age in the United States should be as low as 16.
“I just want to get kids to vote the first time while they’re still in school,” the professor, Peter Levine, told CBS Philadelphia during a Monday radio interview. “I don’t want to push the voting age way down.”
Levine is a professor at Tufts University, a marginally prestigious school where the total cost for undergraduate tuition, fees and room and board is $61,277. He is also the director of the school’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE).
“I just want them to vote before they turn 18, because then we can teach them to vote, teach them how the process works, and teach them to vote responsibly by, for example, getting up to speed on the issues before they vote,” the professor told CBS Philly.
Levine explained that he believes “18 is a particularly bad year to get people into the habit” of voting. He mentioned data suggesting that just six percent of California’s 18-year-old voters cast ballots.
“I don’t think everybody has to vote, and I think if you really don’t know what’s going on you shouldn’t vote, but I think our turnout — which is among the lowest in the world for a real democracy — is too low,” Levine also said. “It means a lot of people are simply left out of our political discussion.”
Levine did not substantially elaborate his argument for why more young people who don’t want to vote should be coaxed into voting.
In November 2008, just weeks after the election of President Barack Obama, Levine wrote in an election postmortem in The American Prospect that progressive Democrats must find a way to keep the youth vote “behind Obama.”
Levine praised candidate Obama, saying he “electrified youth by asking them to work on public problems” and asking for their “active citizenship.” The term “active citizenship,” the Tufts professor explained in 2008, “means talking with diverse people about challenges, analyzing and debating, and then working together to solve problems. Youth are hungry for this kind of work.”
Levine then suggested that Obama should ask America’s youth cohort to “cement their engagement” by combating “climate change.” Such cementing would involve “pledging not to drive once a week,” “advocating legislation,” “weatherizing homes as an Americorps volunteer” and perhaps “becoming an EPA scientist.” (RELATED: Scientists Fear Another ‘Little Ice Age’ Is On The Way)
In a nutshell, Levine urged, “citizens’ work should be the hallmark. Then, there will be Obama Democrats in 2060 the way there are New Deal Democrats today.”
Obama did not take Levine up on the suggestion to ask youths to weatherize homes. (RELATED: Obama’s Economy In Action! Just 17 PERCENT Of College Grads Have Real Jobs Waiting)
The November 2008 piece in The American Prospect had surveyed “nine organizers, writers, and thinkers at the forefront of progressivism and youth activism” including Levine to find ways “of incorporating these youth into the progressive movement.”
Fast-forward back to Levine’s radio interview this week, the professor spoke of a civic duty to vote.
“We have to encourage people by actually teaching them their duty,” Levine said. “I want kids in school to be told, ‘There’s an election, it’s really your duty to vote, and it’s also your duty to be informed and the election is coming up.'”
Oddly, Levine’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning at Tufts was in the news just last month for deriding new laws in Arizona and North Dakota which require high school students who seek diplomas to pass tests similar to the U.S. citizenship test.
“[W]e believe that these new policies are not just insufficient, but could actually be counterproductive to educating our young people to be knowledgeable and engaged citizens,” the academic center which wants teenagers to vote said. (RELATED: OH NO! Fancypants Academics Say High School Civics Tests Fraught With Danger)
The voting age in the United States is 18. Prior to the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it had traditionally been 21.