Columns, Opinion

RYAN: Age Isn’t Just a Number

It’s been a week since the midterm elections, which none of you voted in, by the way. According to the Pew Research Center, only 13 percent of all voters were under the age of 30. Thanks for taking my advice, guys. You really know how to make a girl feel special.

Anyway, while you were all binge-watching Netflix or “studying” instead of voting, one college student was definitely involved in the 2014 midterms. In fact she was a candidate.

Saira Blair, an 18-year-old college student, will represent West Virginia’s 59th District in the state’s House of Delegates. According to a Nov. 5 Newsweek article, Blair defeated the 66-year-old Republican incumbent in the February primary. She went on to defeat her Democratic opponent in the general election on Nov. 4, 63 percent to 30 percent.

Although Blair and I do not see eye to eye politically, I think it’s pretty frickin’ cool that a college freshman holds public office. I wish more young people took on that challenge. While we young whippersnappers are partly to blame, the ubiquitous “system” (aka “The Man” aka “Big Brother” aka Frank Underwood) also isn’t doing many favors. I think we should abolish all age requirements for public office.

Now I know this might seem a little crazy, but I really don’t see the harm in either of these measures. If you do, feel free to address them in the angry comments section below. Although try to be a little nice; my family reads this stuff!

Unlike the House of Delegates in West Virginia, most government positions have age requirements. I’m not talking about assistants or staffers — more so legislative, judicial and executive positions. At the federal level, these age requirements range anywhere from 25 to 35, depending on the office a person seeks. My question is, why?

Does it really matter if a 20-year-old college student runs for Congress? How can this possibly impact our government in a negative way? Voters aren’t stupid. They won’t vote for someone who isn’t qualified for the job. People can make these decisions for themselves.

By preventing young people from running, we’re effectively saying they can’t possibly have good ideas, so why bother? This attitude toward young people just further alienates the most apathetic voting age group in our nation. Wouldn’t you, a college student, be a lot more interested in a candidate who shared not only your political beliefs, but also your age?

On my absentee ballot, I’m pretty sure the youngest person I voted for was my State Senator, Napoleon Harris. He’s 35 and a former Chicago Bears linebacker, so basically we’re the same person. Except he’s 15 years older than me and can bench-press my dad’s truck.

There’s an obvious age gap between Harris and myself. As a college student, I don’t have the opportunity to vote for someone from my generation. I can’t cast a ballot for a fellow 20 something who’s also most concerned about issues our generation will have to solve: cleaning up the environment, paying down our national debt and making college more affordable.

Of course, if I wanted to run for the State Senate seat in Illinois’ 15th District, I could. A person must be 21 years old to hold a seat in the Illinois Senate. I could declare my candidacy, drop out of school and campaign, but I’m not going to do that for a myriad of reasons. The main one is because no one would vote for me.

Some people would vote for me. Packers fans would vote for me, but then again, there aren’t too many Packers fans living on the South Side of Chicago. My dad would vote for me! The people I would most relate to are the ones who don’t show up at the polls. This problem with age requirements is not just preventing people from running — it’s keeping people from voting as well.

It’s hard to get excited about another middle-aged man who can’t use social media. It can be impossible to find common ground with a candidate who is solely concerned with today’s problems because he or she won’t be around tomorrow. If a 22-year-old doesn’t expect to find a relatable candidate on the ballot, she might just not vote. Would anyone really blame her?

I’m not saying that we should get rid of all age requirements tomorrow. Saira Blair just provided an interesting point of discussion. Why should we bother with age requirements in this day and age? Aren’t voters smart enough to vote for the most qualified or most similar candidate?

And if they’re not, then don’t we have a bigger problem than checking candidates’ IDs before they are sworn into office? Don’t limit a voter’s options. And vote Sara Ryan for President in 2032.

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