Old People Shouldn't Vote

Bloggified by Jake on Friday, June 24, 2016

When my family moved to Arizona in the mid-80's, we were part of the mass migration that made Phoenix one of the fastest growing cities year after year. According to the Census Bureau, when we arrived in Mesa in August of 1984, we were among the roughly 90,000 person boost in population to Maricopa County that year. That rate of roughly 80,000 to 100,000 people per year would continue through 2009, and at this point, Maricopa County is nearly two-and-a-half times larger than it was when we got here.

Even back then, many understood the infrastructure in place wouldn't be sufficient to sustain that growing population. In particular, the need for transportation was of great concern. At the time, there were three freeways, I-10 going to Tucson one direction and Los Angeles the other, I-17 going to Flagstaff, and 60, which connected East Mesa to I-10. A proposal went on the ballot in November to raise taxes to fund a series of new freeways, new buses, and a commuter train that would run from Mesa to downtown Phoenix, which wouldn't be up and running until the early 1990's.

The measure was soundly defeated.

As is so often the case, the decision was rendered by virtue of the elderly turning out in much larger numbers than 20-and-30-somethings who work and have other responsibilities on Tuesdays. Overwhelmingly, they rejected the idea of paying taxes for improvements to the city that many of them likely wouldn't live long enough to see, and that many wouldn't use regularly as they were retired and didn't have to worry about rush hour commutes.

The same scenario would explain the decline of the public schools in the following years as any measure to increase funding was soundly defeated by people whose children were middle aged and whose grandchildren and great grandchildren lived in other states. Why should they give up more of their fixed income in their last few years on this earth to make the future more secure for strangers?

Every advance of medical science extends the average human lifespan by a fraction. And as the population grows older with more people living longer, each election reflects more fears of change inherent in getting old and facing mortality.

"Gay people aren't supposed to get married!"
"I can't understand what Mexicans are saying. What if they're talking about me?"
"I don't want to go in a bathroom with people who have private parts different than mine!"
"I want to go to heaven when I die so don't anger God by letting a mosque be built here!"
"Police keep the black people from taking my stuff!"
"I want to go to heaven when I die so don't anger God by letting women get contraception or abortions!"
"Guns keep the black president from taking my stuff!"
"Keep me alive another six month even if it costs 1000 poor kids their immunizations!"

The Brexit referendum has cast a spotlight on this divide in Great Britain. More than 60% of voters under the age of 35 wanted to remain part of the European Union, while those over 45 preferred the option that allowed them to not have so many foreigners living in their neighborhoods. A portion of the economic impact has already been felt with the pound plummeting in value overnight and the Dow Jones dropping 600 points, but the true extent won't be known for years.

And many of those who voted to leave the EU will never live to see exactly what that impact will be. They will live out their final years with smug satisfaction that fewer Muslims are entering the country, secure that old age pensions won't run dry in their lifetimes. They aren't looking to move to France or to take a job in Italy or find true love in Luxembourg because they're past the point of making life changing moves.

The frustration with Brexit casts an ominous shadow over this November's elections. The Democratic primary overwhelmingly saw young people turn out to support Bernie Sanders and his policies in outrageous numbers, only to have them turned away at polling stations or to find five-hour long lines or to learn their closest poll was five miles away and largely inaccessible by public transit. Old people told them to sit down, be quiet, and fall in line. And when that didn't work, they'd literally beat them with their canes.

Every election brings with it warnings of doom should either side win--"The Democrats want Muslims to kill you all!" "The Republicans will let bank barons wipe their asses with your retirement savings!--which makes it all the more disconcerting to think a large percentage of the voters selecting the path the country takes will die before we reach the chosen destination.

Most Brexit opponents dismissed the chances of the referendum passing, echoing the sentiments of Americans who laugh at the prospect of President Trump. Exit polls even showed that a majority of those Brits who voted to leave the EU didn't think the referendum would actually pass, and many younger supporters have admitted voting to leave either because they didn't understand the true consequences of the vote or as a means of sending a patriotic message.

Unfortunately, by November, the lessons of Brexit will have been long forgotten in the 24-hour news cycle and the past will no doubt vote against the future again.

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