I know, I know, this sounds crazy, but listen. There’s over representation for the older generation of the United States in politics. Baby Boomers, born after WW2 but before 1964, in particular, hold more political power than any previous generation. The degree to which political power skews towards the older citizens is the result of a national demographic shift, as well as low voter turnout among the youngest of the electorate. This discrepancy in representation must be addressed now.
The first cause for over representation of older citizens is a national demographic shift, resulting from an increased life-expectancy and decreased birth rate in the United States. The Baby Boomer generation was the apex of the United States reproduction rate, with 3.65 births per woman in 1960. This birth rate began to drop after the Baby Boom because of increased non-familial opportunities as well as access to contraception for women, plateauing at around two births per woman from 1970 – 2000. Each year following the post-war baby boom, the youngest generation began to shrink as boomers’ aged into older brackets and fewer babies were born to replace them. The Baby Boomer generation also has the advantage of modern medicine, allowing the cohort to continue wielding political power through large numbers of voters.
The birth rate shift of the United States and the increased life expectancy of its citizens has — like in other industrialized countries such as Japan and Italy — increased the average age of U.S. citizens; in 1960, the average age of an American was 29. In 2021, it is 38, a full decade older. There are more old people now than ever, and they are living longer than ever, resulting in a skewed electorate that will favor their interests. This trend has already manifested in our politics, both in the Senate (average age 62) and the House of Representatives (average age 58).
This is not only caused by a large swell of voters aging into the 50+ bracket every year, but excessive voting regulations that primarily affect 18-25 years olds. Voter turnout for those in their twenties was a record high in 2020 with 50 percent, yet still considerably lower than the national average of almost 70 percent. The electoral process itself makes it difficult for young people to vote, not just widespread cultural apathy. Registering to vote for the first time, or in a new state, or for an absentee ballot are Herculean tasks faced primarily by younger generations. The registration system privileges established Americans who have lived in the same state for years, again reinforcing the power of older generations.
Never before has skewed generational representation been more detrimental. Today, the lasting effect of policy decisions made about our environment will impact the least represented. This is the cruel irony of disproportionate representation. Older voters and representatives are less likely to take action on climate issues and will suffer fewer consequences for their actions than later generations. Furthermore, the birthrate of the U.S. continues to drop and is now at an all time low of 1.7 births per woman. The younger generations will not have the advantage of a majority for decades, and their earth will be one set on its course by those long dead.
Finally, I come to my initial proposition: everyone under 25 should get to vote twice. I realize that literally giving each voter in this age bracket two votes is not only unrealistic, but also unconstitutional. But giving younger generations greater representation is still necessary now and in the future. The issues faced by younger generations today parallels the situation faced by smaller states during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Tied together by common interests, the specific concerns of both younger voters today and the citizens of smaller states then suffered from their minority status.
The solution at the convention was a mixture between proportional representation and equal representation for the states, so the voice of both the distinct individuals and the distinct communities could be heard. This kind of compromise can, and should, be reached today between generations. A solution could take many forms. Maybe those under 25 should control 1/4 of electors, similar to how each state controls 1/50 of the Senate. Or perhaps there could be a balance between proportional and equal representation, such as the electoral college, a combination of the state’s number of senators and representatives. I’m not sure — I’m only twenty. Still, both of these systems will make it necessary for candidates to win over age groups and guarantee that the youngest generation’s interest carries political weight regardless of their population size and voter turnout.
The U.S. has never fairly represented its citizens. Voter suppression of Black and Brown people exists now as it always has and is the most severe political oppression of our history. The political representation today of younger generations may be dimmer than in the past, but the system itself has always disenfranchised and disregarded the will of racial minorities. Still, there is value in considering one way in which our political system doesn’t work for everyone. In considering why everyone under 25 should vote twice, the flaws and fallibility of this political system on a generational level becomes clear. And, most importantly, this consideration begins one part of the process in reshaping our political system to more fairly represent the people and more perfectly form our union.