AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — When it comes to age on the ballot, Texas didn’t wait until 2024 to weigh in.
Asked to let judges stay on the bench until they’re 79 years old — a year younger than President Joe Biden — Texas voters soundly rejected the proposal in Tuesday’s elections, a defeat that drew new attention to issues of age and fitness for office in the U.S.
“Age is front of mind for American voters in a way that it has not traditionally been and they are nervous about it,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.
Others cautioned against broader takeaways. At least four other states have rejected similar proposals over the last decade, according to the National Center for State Courts. And states that have passed the measures have mostly done so in close votes.
Still, the outcome in Texas put another spotlight on age on politics. Biden is now 80 and former President Donald Trump is 77. Today, the age factor is shaping up as an important issue in a possible rematch in 2024 of their first race, in 2020.
The lopsided failure of Proposition 13 — which would have raised the mandatory retirement age for state judges by four years — stood out in an mostly quiet off-year election in Texas. For one, it was the lone ballot item that voters singled out for rejection among 14 proposed changes to the Texas Constitution. Measures that passed included raises for retired teachers and changes to farm regulations.
There was no organized opposition leading up to Tuesday’s vote. But by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Texas voters balked at letting judges stay on the job into their late 70s, which supporters said would help experienced judges stay in office longer. They also argued that longer life expectancies made raising the mandatory retirement age appropriate.
Presiding judges of Texas’ highest courts are among those in line to retire in the coming years.
Lawmakers who authored the bill did not return messages Wednesday seeking comment about the measure’s failure.
In August, a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 77% of U.S. adults think that Biden is too old to effectively serve a second term. Meanwhile, only half of adults showed concern about Trump’s age despite the short age gap.
Since 2011, voters in Arizona, Ohio, New York and Hawaii have rejected ballot measures to raise the retirement ages for judges. But similar efforts won approval in Pennsylvania and Florida.
None of the states with proposed age limit increases have seen organized opposition before the propositions failed, according to Bill Raftery, a senior knowledge management analyst for the National Center on State Courts.
He did not dispute that age could be a factor for voters. But he said support for term limits might also play a role among some voters.
“There hasn’t been any ‘People against old judges PAC’ or what have you,” Raftery said.