For centuries, our generation has worked and died so that America could move forward. Members of our generation rarely have received credit for our work. Teens have fought and died in the American Revolution, in the Civil War, in the World Wars, in Vietnam and in Iraq. American teens, throughout history have fought for civil rights, for voting rights and other rights and we have brought about fundamental changes in government. At the same time, teens have been denied rights allowed to older Americans and credit for their accomplishments.
Now, members of our generation are saying it’s time we got the rights and the power we have earned and deserve. On September 12, 2006, 17-year-old Jesse Hunter voted in the Minnesota Primary, after providing his correct date of birth and allowing polling officials to examine his driver’s license. He was later notified that he was being charged with felony voter fraud, a charge that is absurd on its face. Since when is telling the truth, while exercising your rights, a fraud? To youth across America, Jesse is a hero who took charge and exercised the right to have a say in his future. On December 19, 2006, the Patrick Henry Democratic Club of America (PHCD) declared him its Patriot of the Year for 2006. The PHDC is a national organization based in California. Its members include doctors, lawyers, professors, political candidates, ministers, performers, engineers, writers, students and others. These individuals, over a two-month period, looked through the accomplishments of various Americans and felt that the most patriotic act of 2006 was that of a 17-year old who took the opportunity to vote.
Over 400 Americans have died in Iraq without exercising the right Jesse took on behalf of himself and our generation. Those 400 were too young to vote in the last Presidential election before they died for a cause to which they could not say “no.” In view of the 400 dead Americans, age discrimination in voting should receive elevated scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The level of scrutiny is what determines if a law, such as the 18-year-old voting age, is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. The Constitution contains no minimum voting age as the 26th Amendment only establishes an age at which discrimination must end in voting. In taking a stand, Jesse was helping to prevent the likelihood of another 400 dying in Iraq or Iran or Venezuela without a chance to vote. His actions were a service to the county.
In 2006, California voters received a paper trail. This paper trail didn’t just drop in from heaven. It took a lot of work and years to bring it about. Back in 2003, Natasha Hull-Richter (then 11) and I (Alex Hull-Richter, then 13) wrote the resolution calling for a paper trail that was later adopted by the California Democratic Party. This was despite opposition from Christine Pelosi (Nancy’s daughter), the ACLU and California’s Common Cause, all of whom opposed a paper trail at the time. Our resolution was the basis for the Democratic National Committee resolution calling for a paper-trail. Natasha and I went to then Secretary of State Kevin Shelley’s Help America Vote Act hearings and gave speeches on the dangers of electronic voting and the need for paper ballots or at least a paper trail if election outcomes were ever to be trusted again. The odds were against us. We were up against major civil liberty organizations who felt that the paper trail would result in computer jams and would disadvantage disabled voters. Shelley and his panel agreed with us and the result was that Shelley decreed there would be a voter-verifiable paper trail in all California elections, starting in 2006. Between 2003 and 2006, Shelley resigned, but his replacement, Bruce McPherson, could not undo the guarantee of a paper trail. Since 2003, the ACLU and California’s Common Cause have realized that we were correct and have joined us in supporting a paper trail. If Shelley and his HAVA panel had waited for the older activists to come around, Bruce McPherson (a Diebold advocate) would probably be Secretary of State for another four years. We had another coup in 2006. We helped elect Debra Bowen, a supporter of a lower voting age, to be California’s Secretary of State. In recognition of all this, the PHDC declared Natasha and myself Voting Rights Leaders of the Year, 2006.
It’s not enough that the adults have the right to have their votes counted. There are more than 75,000,000 potential voters who are not allowed to vote because of age discrimination. In 2005, Natasha got the California Democratic Party to adopt a resolution calling for lowering the voting age. She tried to get this into the 2006 California Democratic Party Platform. However, Christine Pelosi had her platform committee pediatrician, Dr. Jo Olson, make a presentation that those under the age of 18 have smaller, inferior brains and are not capable of rational or intelligent thought. After that, the members of the platform committee one by one (with one exception) spoke of how lazy and useless our generation is. That committee needs reforming or disbanding.
Not giving up, Natasha and I and other youth activists continued to speak to elected officials and found that there was tremendous support for lowering the voting age. A number of legislators signed our petition in support of putting it on the platform. Three of the 2006 gubernatorial candidates came out in support of lowering the voting age and a four called it a “great idea.” Debra Bowen (California’s new SOS) also suports lowering the voting age.
We got a bigger win from the membership of the Screen Actors Guild at its annual 2006 meeting, where the members voted by more than a 3 to 1 margin to support lowering the voting age. Members of SAG work with those under 18 and understand our abilities and intelligence more than any other group of professionals. This was an endorsement of our generation.
We also have strong support from one of the 2008 Presidential candidates, Dennis J. Kucinich, who has been endorsed by the Orange County Chapter of the National Youth Rights Association. November 7, 2006 proved that the voters have stopped listening to the media and have stopped allowing corporations to determine the outcome of elections. Dennis is expected to get the full anti-war vote in the next election as he is considered the only peace candidate in the election. In 2006, youth rights activists made a difference. We defeated anti-youth candidates, like Michael Fitzpatrick (who tried to ban us from the Internet). We need to make youth rights the deciding factor in the next election. We need to let every candidate for every office know that, if they want the job, they must come to us and convince us that they will help us get our rights. We must work to defeat all ageists, regardless of political affiliation.
On October 23, 2006, the last day to register to vote for the November 7, 2006 election, Natasha and I attempted to register to vote. We fully intended to vote in the early voting if we had been allowed to register and to vote. Natasha’s form was rejected. Mine was accepted, but I was not allowed to vote. Our goal is to put together an Equal Protection class action suit to lower or eliminate the voting age. We are hoping others will join us in this effort.
One setback our generation has had was with the California Democratic Assembly District Caucuses. Robert Jordan, a California Democratic Party(CDP) volunteer with too much authority, refused to allow those of us who had registered as Democrats at 17 to be listed in the caucuses for state delegate positions in the California Democratic Party (CDP) . In California, 17-year-olds can register but cannot vote. Under the old CDP rules and the new CDP rules adopted in January 2006, we were eligible. The refusal to allow us to have our name on the list was solely as a result of age discrimination. The Orange County Chapter of the National Youth Rights Association voted to condemn the discrimination as a violation of our civil rights.
Despite setbacks, we must continue to demand an end to ageism. It took a long time to for all American men to get the vote and even more time for all American women to get the vote. Now, voting is considered a fundamental right for all Americans over 18. The next step is to get everyone to accept that all Americans, regardless of age, have the right to vote.
Back in 1955, when Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on a bus and was arrested, a decision was made that she was too young to be a role model. Her teacher and mentor was sent in to copy her footsteps and get the glory. Claudette was forgotten. Our generation has already given up too much. It’s our turn to stand up and to demand our rights. Our generation changed the face of the civil rights movement. Our generation has changed the face of voting. It’s time that we got all of our rights and stopped taking backseats to those who claim superiority solely because of their age. It’s about time we classified ageism as a hate crime, just as bad as those hate crimes exercised against any other singled-out group. We are 75 million plus strong and we don’t have to settle for what little the ageists want to give us.