In my recent travels to Wyoming, I was approached by a kindly older gentleman who asked if I hailed from the great State of Wyoming. I informed him I did not but asked what he was involved with, as the telltale giveaway was the clipboard in his hands. He informed me that he was gathering signatures to include a referendum on the ballot to limit the upper age at which one could run for Congress (U.S. Representative, to be precise). I asked him what caused him to pursue this endeavor. He told me that because of elected officials like President Biden and Senator Diane Feinstein’s older age, he felt that they had become a hindrance to the proper running of the nation.
A recent Pew Research opinion survey showed that 79% of the country agrees with the gentleman from Wyoming. Most Americans favor maximum age limits for federal elected officials and Supreme Court Justices (1/4/2023 Pew Research https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/10/04/most-americans-favor-maximum-age-limits-for-federal-elected-officials-supreme-court-justices/). Noticing that the gentleman from Wyoming only mentioned Democrats, I asked if this included Senators Mitch McConnel and Charles Grassley. He did not know who those two Senators were. This majority of Americans surveyed included Republicans and Democrats, but more so Republicans who favor the maximum age limit for elected officials but not so much for SCOTUS.
The U.S. Constitution only states a minimum age requirement; Representatives must be 25 years old, Senators 30 years, and the President is 35 years old (for a side note: President also includes natural-born citizenship and a two term-limit, which is interesting as the Speaker of the House can be foreign-born but could not assume the Presidency should that event occur). The Constitution does not include a maximum age requirement.
So, the question is, should the U.S. Constitution have a maximum age limit? Can Congress institute such a limitation?
Several websites are working towards instituting an upper age limit: change.org is one such site. They offer several arguments for justifying an upper limit:
- The current average age of the Senate is 61.8 years; for the U.S. House, it is 57.8 years. The two Presidential candidates are in their 70s. These are the highest averages ever in our history. (https://www.change.org/p/president-of-the-united-states-maximum-age-limit-for-congress-and-presidency)
- They theorize that by making a mandatory retirement age of 65, “we could bring in younger candidates who are better equipped to deal with the issues that America faces today and events we will face in the future. Moreover, “By implementing these maximum age limits on Congressional and Presidential positions, we can ensure that our country continues to be innovative and help prevent using ineffective and outdated solutions for modern-day problems. It would also provide a better representation of the interests of American people, considering only about 13% of the American population is 65 and over.”
Depending on which site you scroll through, the maximum age for holding public office should be 65 – 70 years. YouGov.com stated, “How would these limits impact the makeup of our current Congress? Our analysis found that if senators over 60 were barred from holding office, 71% of current senators would be ineligible to serve. If the limit were 70, 30% would be ineligible. If it were 80, 6% would be ineligible.”
As YouGov.com points out, instituting a mandatory retirement age would be messy. At age 60, over 2/3rds of the Senate would have to retire. I am not sure about anyone else over 60 years of age, but I was not anywhere near interested in retiring. There is no retirement requirement where I currently work, and at 67 years, I am still not interested in retiring. Lest we forget, there are laws currently on the books that are supposed to prevent a slew of discrimination practices, one of which is age discrimination.
Discrimination aside, consider that not all older adults age the same. I know people in their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s who are sharp as a tack. I also know people in that age group who are not the sharpest or brightest crayons in the box. However, the same can be said for all adult age groups. Thus, age should not be used to determine one’s acuity.
Let us consider the most significant built-in factor in the Constitution for regulating when a person can hold office; we usually call it an election. Moreover, all any qualified adult must do is register to vote and actually vote to be involved. It is that easy. By qualified, we have stipulated that an individual must be a citizen, over 18 years old (that is right, a minimal age qualification), and reside at the residence listed on their registration form. A citizen can only vote in the elections in the districts from which they reside.
I must admit that being an informed voter takes much work. In Warren Township alone, I have 17 districts where I can vote from precinct to President (National, Statewide, Congressional, Legislative, State Rep, County Board, Judicial, Unincorporated(?), Township, Park District, Library, three school districts, Fire Protection, and Precinct Committeeperson). That is a lot to keep track of, from the current officeholder and their record to the candidates and what each of them proposes. Living in a Democratic Republic is a lot of responsibility and work. However, it is not meant to be easy. If it were, then all Governments would be Democratic Republics.
Voting allows the average citizen to register their decision about who they want representing them in each public office. If a voter is dissatisfied with the incumbent, vote against them. If enough other people feel the same way, the incumbent loses and retires from that office. Otherwise, they remain in office until the next election. Thus, we have term and age limits all wrapped in one package every election.
The key is to get enough, or a majority, of like-minded people to participate in the election to remove the disliked incumbent and elect the desired candidate; that is where the work comes in.
Currently, only about 70% of all qualified citizens bother registering to vote (U.S. Census), with only 55% bothering to vote in November 2022. Of that voting group, the numbers breakdown accordingly:
As per U.S. Census data for the November 2022 General Election
Age Registered % Voting %
18-24 49 50
25-34 62 39
35-44 69 49
45-54 72 54
55-64 74 61
65-74 77 68
75+ 76 65
While the number voting compared to registered is up over past years, the numbers only get worse in off-year elections:
(Credit: Mona Chalabi/Carnegie Corporation of New York)
As you can see from the above graphic, approximately 10% of those registered actually vote in local elections where critical decisions affecting all citizens occur: services like police and fire, housing, libraries, schools, streets and sanitation, water, schools, and how our elections are run are decided at the local level. Nevertheless, only 10-15% of those registered participate in those elections.
So, in the end, putting an artificial retirement age on elected officials only hurts us. We lose out on the experience older citizens bring to the table. While younger people have the energy and the knowledge of newer tools we could use in running society, older citizens bring lifelong experience in applying new things. We have nothing to prove, no axe to grind, no ego to bruise. When I am wrong, I readily admit it. Why sacrifice this experience and knowledge acquired through aging, which can only help our nation?
As stated earlier, if you do not like the incumbent, work to remove them from office using the old tried and true method: vote them out of office in the next term-limiting election.