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Vivek Ramaswamy, the youngest GOP presidential candidate, wants civics tests for young voters 18 to 24

Millennial Republican and biotech CEO Vivek Ramaswamy is running as the youngest candidate in his party's presidential primary, a fact he often mentions at his campaign events. 

"Take it from me as a young person — I'm 37 years old. I was born in 1985. I truly hope and pray and believe that my best days may still be ahead of me," he said at the Faith and Freedom conference in Washington, D.C. in June.

Though he's campaigning as the "young" candidate, Ramaswamy would like to make it a little harder for the nation's youngest voters to cast a ballot. 

He's proposing a constitutional amendment that would require citizens 18 to 24 to pass a civics test in order to vote — the same one immigrants take to become naturalized U.S. citizens. Under his proposal, young Americans could, as an alternative, perform six months of military or first-responder service. But if none of these requirements are met, they would have to wait until they turn 25 before they could vote in their first election.

The Ramaswamy campaign emphasized that this isn't a plan to raise the voting age because younger voters would still be able to participate if they met the requirements. But Ramaswamy has previously used language that explicitly stated he would try to raise the voting age. 

"I'm announcing my support for a constitutional amendment to raise the voting age from 18 to 25," he tweeted on May 11. 

The campaign told CBS News the amendment is part of Ramaswamy's central campaign message calling for a revival of civic duty for young people and renewed national pride. He thinks civic engagement among young people is too low and believes this can be reversed with more knowledge about the country and Constitution. 

"He sees it in the country, but he sees it for himself," said Tricia McLaughlin, a senior adviser for the Ramaswamy campaign. "He was not civically engaged when he was young, and he regrets that. He thinks that's really important." 

Ramaswamy said voter participation would "skyrocket" with this amendment because it will make voting "mean something."

"We cannot solve the absence of a desire to serve our country - or to learn about the Constitution - by forcing young people to do so," he said in a Tweet. "Tying civic duty to the ultimate privilege of citizenship—voting—& conferring it to young people accordingly, we have a better chance of actually restoring civic duty in America."

In another effort to boost national pride, he is also funding a $250,000 Vivek Ramaswamy American Identity Scholarship for high school students, because he says too few young people are proud to be Americans. 

But Ramaswamy has been facing some backlash over his voting plan, including from young voters who accuse him of hypocrisy for using his youth as a campaign selling point. Politico reported that the amendment is not supported by some of Ramaswamy's own staff. 

"People like Vivek Ramaswamy who are using their age as an element to try and stand out to Gen-Z, they're very obviously wolves in sheep's clothing," said Lucas Robinson, a young voter from Texas. "People our age can really see through people like that." 

Other voters – like Santiago Mayer, executive director of Gen-Z organization Voters of Tomorrow – say there is a pattern of youth vote suppression in the Republican party.

"Instead of trying to represent young people, what we're seeing is this effort to try and take us out of the equation," Mayer told CBS News at the Leaders of Tomorrow Summit in Washington last week. 

Mayer noted that other conservatives, like GOP lawyer Cleta Mitchell, have said it is "too easy" for young people to vote.

In general, younger voters gravitate toward Democratic candidates, and if Ramaswamy were able to get his amendment passed, it could reduce the number of voters ages 18 to 24, and this could cause a shift in favor of Republican candidates. Data from the Edison Research National Election Pool exit poll in 2022 showed 63% of young people (18 to 24) supported Democratic candidates, while 35% supported Republicans. 

"Wanting to raise the voting age is really nothing more than trying to make the playing field more stacked than it already is," Robinson said. As a typically progressive voter, Robinson worries about how this proposal could impact Democratic candidates.

Ramaswamy's plan may also raise concerns about its resemblance to literacy tests that were used in the South before the Voting Rights Act to keep poorer and Black citizens from voting. However, his campaign said that the two are not the same and reiterated that Ramaswamy's proposal is about civic pride, not about keeping people from voting.

CBS News polling from June 7 shows only 13% of likely GOP primary voters are considering a vote for Ramaswamy.

But even if Ramaswamy were elected, this amendment would be highly unlikely to become law because amending the Constitution is so difficult. It would require either a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate or it would have to be requested by two-thirds of the states. After that, it would still have to be ratified by three-quarters of the states.

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