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Posted at 6:10 PM ET, 03/ 7/2011

Before limiting college students' voting rights, stop old people!

By Alexandra Petri

They're monolithic! They come flooding into the polls with an overwhelming sense that their way is right and a total lack of mooring in what's actually happening on the ground. They listen to strange music. They dress in funky sweaters I hope are ironic. Their political views are strongly predicted by their age.

Because of these people, as New Hampshire State Representative Gregory Sorg said, the votes of average taxpayers are being "diluted or entirely canceled by those of a huge, largely monolithic demographic group ... focused on remaking the world, with themselves in charge, of course, rather than with the mundane humdrum of local government."

College students?

Please! I'm talking about the elderly.

Across the country, legislators are attempting to restrict the ability of college students to vote, putting forth bills that would establish more onerous residency laws and require state IDs rather than college ones. "Voting as a liberal," New Hampshire state House Speaker William O'Brien said. "That's what kids do." The new bills would stop that.

But before they go any further, I think another group deserves this sort of attention: Old People.

Once you're 65, I think you should stop voting. Kicking the bucket? More like passing the buck!

Sorry, Grandma. But this is too important to leave to the Greatest Generation. You did a good job dealing with the problems of your time. But now it's up to us.

Here's the fundamental problem with elderly people voting. They have, broadly speaking, no incentive to make any sacrifices or enact any reforms, well, ever. You know the complaint about how, with regard to pension reform, elected officials have been kicking the can down the road because by the time things take effect, they will be out of office?

By the time anything Old People want has to be paid for, they will have -- how to put this? -- hopped the twig. Begun pushing up daisies. Relocated to a better place. (Not Boca. The other one.)

Sure, college students tend to be liberal and not think about consequences. But compared to old people, they're pikers! After all, nothing says, "I don't really have to worry about whether bending the health-care cost curve will work" like "I am pretty sure I will be deceased come 2045."

It's not that I don't love the elderly. I honor my elders. I prefer the old and tried to the new and untried. I have never, to my knowledge, engaged in elder abuse, except one time when my middle school choir sang at an old persons' home and several people died specifically to escape our handbell rendition of "Alexander's Ragtime Band."*

But I have to say, it doesn't seem fair. "Don't let students vote! They're liberal!" Well, sure. But where are the campaigns that scream, "Don't let old people vote! They're conservative!" If they don't exist, I'm starting one.

But it's not merely that the old tend to be conservative: it's that they're irresponsible. Old People never have any incentive not to kick the can down the road. They join a specialized coterie of people I don't believe should be voting: the moribund, the already deceased (insert obvious Chicago joke here) and people who earnestly believe that the Rapture is about to happen and they will be snatched away by The Man Upstairs. If you don't think you'll be around by the time these things take effect, please, don't vote. And if you think previous generations' elderly were bad, now the Boomers, the generation of entitlement, are crossing the threshold. They won't deny themselves anything! And it's coming out of our pockets!

"Don't let college students vote!" people yell. "They don't really know how things work! They lack life experience! They're full of newfangled ideals, and probably one or two controlled substances!"

"Don't let old people vote!" I retort. "They don't really understand how things work these days! No matter what you are talking about, they insist on comparing it to the Great Depression! They refer to Google as 'the Google,' which makes it sound like something that follows you around in 19th-century Warsaw bringing misfortune. They're full of old-fashioned ideals, and probably Metamucil."

Is this ageism? Fine, it's ageism. But so was what you said -- the specific form of ageism known as Collegestudentism. Yes, college students are traditionally liberal. They're young and unseasoned, like certain types of veal. They are so socially liberal that you sometimes see them attempting to enter civil unions with dead halibut, just to prove a point.

Sure, we're young, naive and full of earth-shaking ideals. But how is that worse than being old, jaded, and surgically attached to the status quo because of something irregular that happened during a hip replacement?

We may not understand how local politics work. We may be more liberal than we should be, demographically speaking. But the solution is not to keep us young people from voting.

After all, we're the ones who will be paying for this!

*On a side note, why do people think performing at the homes of the elderly is a community service? I know they don't want to be forgotten, but I'd rather be forgotten than forced to spend what's left of my life listening to the AdHoc Opera Troupe attempt to perform "Tosca" and "Madame Butterfly" simultaneously because the pianist got confused and the tenor couldn't tell the difference.

This is yet another illustration of the discrepancy. People don't view performing at colleges as a form of community service. If you perform on college campuses, it is generally a sign that people are willing to come see you and find what you have to say somewhat relevant. If you perform for elderly people, it is generally a sign that you would not be able to attract an audience that was capable of walking away.

By Alexandra Petri  | March 7, 2011; 6:10 PM ET
Categories:  Bad Advice, Epic Failures, Petri, Worst Things Ever  | Tags:  America, age, college, kids these days, oops, voting  
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Mock and distort away. You know that the idea is not to prevent college students from voting, but to prevent them from voting in a place where they are not a resident. A resident isn't just a matter of where you are, it is about "home". Do these college kids file taxes from there, assuming they do? Can we assume the reason they want to go with college IDs for voting is that these kids hope to exercising the rights and privileges of citizens of New Hampshire by voting there, while keeping that New Jersey driver's license firmly in pocket. You don't get to choose where to vote, and it sounds to me like the proposed bills are smart, appropriate, common-sense approaches.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | March 8, 2011 1:40 AM | Report abuse

When we think "election" we tend to think of presidential, or possibly Congressional elections. We don't think local school board, water board, library funding, school bond issue and the like. Nobody wants to prevent a college student from voting, but a temporary resident doesn't really have a stake in these local issues. If you have registered your car, rented an apartment, changed your driver's license and expect to be in a place for several years, then yes, you probably do have a stake in the local issues. If you live on campus and know you are moving in three or four years, then you probably don't. Absentee ballots are easy to obtain. In most jurisdictions you can download the form, fill it out, mail or fax it back and receive a ballot by mail, which you can fill out and mail back. If you didn't register in your home state or precinct before you went to school, you can probably register online.

Posted by: abbyandmollycats | March 8, 2011 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Both the previous commenters do not know what they are talking about. Most college students do not return home after college. Many even stay in the area of their college. (My daughter did.) They have just as much interest in where they are currently living as anyone else.

One of the really bad things about this couintry is the small percentage of people that vote. We should make it as easy as possible to vote (BTW the fact is that there are very few instances of voters fraud.) The purpose of these bills is to make it harder to vote, for political advantage.


Posted by: lensch | March 8, 2011 10:23 AM | Report abuse

lensch is absolutely right. When I was in college, I was very engaged in what was happening THERE, in that city, county, Congressional district, and state. I followed politics avidly and voted in every election. (And then, as now, if I had not been following the candidates and issues for a particular local office, I skipped that race on the ballot and left it to people who had.) By contrast, I had no idea what was going on "back home" (where, as lensch pointed out, I never again lived beyond school breaks) -- I barely knew who my parents' Representative was, let alone anything else going on in politics. (I didn't make enough money as a student to pay much income tax in either place, but you can guess where most of my economic activity (including payment of high sales taxes) took place.)

Also, to abbyandmollycats's point, many of those local issues do, in fact, affect "temporary residents." When I was in college, one of the hottest issues in local government was limiting the effects of the college (even though it was the driver of the town's economy) on the surrounding neighborhoods, principally by imposing draconian parking restrictions. So we voted, which was fair (and we lost to the locals, which also was fair). And it's ludicrous to suggest that students have no interest in local ordinances on rentals and the like, except perhaps at the very smallest, most dorm-oriented schools.

Posted by: Janine1 | March 8, 2011 10:48 AM | Report abuse

It ain't the years, citizen Petri. It's the mileage. The US has a somewhat nomadic population nowadays. Tightening up some on voter registration is nothing to fear. ... Loathe? Maybe. ... but not fear.

As an added note. Typically, in the US of A, we don't have 'music police'.

Posted by: deepthroat21 | March 8, 2011 11:37 AM | Report abuse

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