Politics & Other Mistakes: Old and in the way

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It was November 1994, and I was standing outside a polling place in southern Maine interviewing folks as they prepared to cast their ballots in a hotly contested congressional race.

A little old lady was more than pleased to share her views. She said she’d made up her mind weeks ago.

“I’m voting for Jim Longley,” she said. “He was a great governor, and he’ll be a great congressman.”

Those assertions are, at best, questionable, but what wasn’t in dispute was the former governor’s eligibility for Congress. In 1994, he’d been dead for 14 years.

The elderly voter had mistaken Longley’s son, Republican James Jr., for the late independent chief executive.

It’s possible quite a few older people made the same mistake. Even though the state’s 1st Congressional District was staunchly Democratic, young Longley defeated a stodgy Dem candidate with a bad rug to hand the GOP its last victory in that liberal bastion before a series of defeats lasting more than a quarter of a century.

Never underestimate the power of the ill-informed voter – of either party.

I was reminded of Longley’s improbable win when I learned that the Legislature was once again considering a bill to lower the voting age to 16. One of the major arguments against the proposal is that teenagers aren’t capable of making educated decisions about such important issues as whether a congressional candidate is dead.

In written testimony filed with the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee in March, Pete Harring of Washington (the one in Maine) had nothing good to say about the idea.

“Responsible citizens use their life experiences and knowledge to make an informed decision on how they use that power and cast their vote,” Harring wrote. “When I was 16, I certainly was not responsible enough to make a reasonable informed choice on how to cast my vote.”

I’m not sure how old Harring is now, but back in 2010, under the pseudonym “Pete the Carpenter,” he was one of the organizers of the far-right Maine Tea Party movement with a tendency to post lots of drivel online. He once compared liberals to Slinkies because they “bring a smile to your face when you push them down the stairs.”

Care to explain that part about “responsible citizens” again, Pete?

Other arguments raised by Harring against letting 16-year-olds vote include the fact they’re not old enough to buy alcohol, tobacco or marijuana. Of course, neither are 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds, but they can all cast ballots. (Also, they’re experienced enough to know how to get hold of all those things, anyway.)

Teenagers hold jobs, which means they pay taxes – without any representation. They go to schools, where they see first-hand how poorly their tax dollars are being spent. They drive on roads that their taxes aren’t maintaining properly. In short, they have most of the responsibilities of citizenship without having any voice in what those responsibilities ought to be.

Sort of like Black people in Georgia.

In today’s ridiculous partisan atmosphere, lowering the voting age has fallen victim to the dreary Democrat/Republican divide, with most supporters being members of the former party and most opponents signing up for the latter. But it wasn’t always that way.

In 2003, a legislative committee approved a bill to allow 17-year-olds to vote by a solid bipartisan majority. It was eventually amended (by which I mean watered down) to permit those who would turn 18 before the general election in November to register and vote in primaries.

But now, the GOP is convinced all those kids would vote Democratic because they’re stupid and brainwashed, apparently forgetting that many middle-aged people vote Republican for exactly the same reasons. So, there’s little likelihood the measure to lower the voting age will pass, because it amends the state Constitution, which requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature and approval by the voters.

For the foreseeable future, Pete Harring and other old people will have to take responsibility for all the stupid decisions.

Regardless of age, you can email me at [email protected].