Elijah Manley was daydreaming on the school bus again. The Fort Lauderdale High sophomore wasn’t thinking about homework or quizzes but about the 2016 presidential race. That’s when he decided he was going to run for president. Not school president — but president of the United States of America. Annoyed at the two-party system and candidates on both sides, he decided he would run as an independent. It was May 22. With summer fast approaching, he could dedicate more time to his campaign.
“I have a history of being told to do things at a certain time and when I’m older. I wanted to prove there’s no such thing as being too young,” Manley says. “If you’re not sitting at the table, you’re on the menu.”
At first, the lanky 16-year-old didn’t tell anyone of his plans. He knew that the U.S. Constitution states “neither shall any person be eligible to that office [of president] who shall not have attained to the age of thirty-five years,” so the teenager spent his afternoons speaking to youth rights lawyers, who advised him that there were no age restrictions on running for office, but he may have to wait 19 years to be inaugurated. On June 10, Manley filed his forms with the Federal Elections Commission.
“My mom only found out when some paperwork came in the mail to our house,” Manley says. “Both my parents have been really supportive after I explained that I was serious.”
Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Manley is one of 11 brothers and sisters. Soft-spoken but opinionated, he spends his spare time reading about U.S. history and recently became active in politics. He’s president of Youth Assembly, a youth civil rights organization. He spent the summer participating in local protests, most recently joining a group of Black Lives Matter activists who confronted more than 200 Confederate flag supporters at a road rally in Plantation. Last week, he started his junior year at Fort Lauderdale High, where he’s enrolled in the magnet criminal justice program and is a member of JROTC.
Manley admits he’s at a disadvantage, and not just financially. School and homework leaves the young presidential candidate exhausted and with little time to campaign. He estimates he sleeps only four hours a night. He’s currently working on a 100-page packet explaining his plans, but until then, he’s quickly outlined them online.
Lowering the voting age to 16 is at the top of Manley’s list. It’s a cruel irony that on Election Day, most Manley supporters will be 17 and unable to vote for him. But by Inauguration Day, Manley points out, he’ll be 18, which he proposes as the minimum age for president.
“I think I might be the first presidential candidate who won’t be able to vote for themselves,” Manley says. “The way I see it, if we’re old enough to work and pay taxes, we should be able to vote. It’s frustrating.”
On July 24, 15-year-old Brady Olson of Iowa announced his candidacy, running under the name Deez Nuts. An Iowa poll has him reaching 7 percent, and he’s already on the ballot in 30 states. Manley plans to ask Deez Nuts to run on his ticket.
“I think that he’s polling high for a good reason,” says Manley. “I’m hoping to poll as high as he is and possibly consider him as a running mate if his poll numbers drop.”
But Manley isn’t delusional. At the very least, he hopes throwing his hat into the ring will challenge the other candidates. Whether he wins or not, 2016 will still be a big year for Manley: He’ll take his SATs, apply to college, and start his last year of high school. In five years, Manley hopes to have graduated college and enrolled in law school.
“Mark my words: I’ll be in elected office one day,” Manley says.
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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.