Thursday, August 12, 2010

Young People's Vote (and Me the Small People)

In yesterday's SCOTUS item, I hid a bit of support for a completely different reform in the last paragraph -- radically lowering the voting age.  I hadn't realized that the Washington Post ran a column just last week proposing a voting age of 10 (I said 12; I was just pulling a number out of a hat).  Unfortunately, Matt Miller's column (via Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, whose own argument for vote-from-birth is here) has about as bad a case as I've seen of what Henry Farrell calls "Me the People" syndrome.  Miller, it seems, knows exactly what newly voting 13 year olds would ask of the political system, and their questions are oddly specific and sound suspiciously like someone's (perhaps Miller's?) personal preferences.  No, really; Miller supposed that these young voters would ask:
Is the quarterly earnings craze in a stock market that operates like a casino really the way to fund and build enterprises that will be globally competitive when we grow up? 
I've known quite a few middle-school kids, and...well, I'll just say that I'd like a bit of evidence that that's on their minds.

At any rate...the argument for kids voting, whether at 12, 10, or birth, is that they are actual humans and citizens, and therefore have as much of a right as anyone else to participate.  Indeed, we allow kids to participate in politics in other ways: they are allowed to electioneer, to lobby, and to participate in parties and interest groups.  So why not vote? 


  1. You're serious? You're going to waste serious blog-ink on this?

    Okay, since you asked: because kids are cognitively limited, unengaged with the political sphere, and virtual subjects of their parents.

  2. I brought this subject up when I was a youth advisor at my church and we did a program on civics. The kids -- teenagers -- were very interested in that idea. I see no reason why kids can't vote starting at age 16, which is when many start earning their own money. Taxation without representation, yada yada.

    Of course, the kids at my church were/are exceptional young people, engaged in their communities and motivated to make a difference in the world. Can't speak for other kids.


  3. Anonymous: those are the same reasons that were given for why women shouldn't vote. You're going to have to do better than that.

  4. I don't have particularly strong views on the voting age issue, and I don't expect it to change any time soon.

    Having said that, I'd like to respond to your points, Anonymous.

    1) Cognitive limitations are not a bar to voting for many adults (and therefore are not a rational argument for disenfranchising teenagers).

    2) Engagement with the political sphere is, again, not required of voters. And as for politically engaged---you should have seen the debates about California's Prop 8 my 14 year old was having with friends on Facebook.

    3) As for being virtual subjects, it seems to me that's one advantage of a secret ballot. If, hypothetically speaking a 12 or 16 year old were to vote contrary to their parents' wishes, there's no way for the parents to find out.

    Other arguments?

  5. Sorry, I have to agree with anonymous #1 on this one.

    Cognitive limitations. People are doubting this? Really? We don't permit minors to make any binding decisions; in most states, they can't marry, sign contracts, etc. The bulk of human history has taught us that children are not yet ready to make such decisions. Yes, the arguments were used against women voting. So, perhaps we need to treat the argument of "we've always done it this way" as suspect. But treating a class of argument as suspect is far different from ignoring our own experiences and logic. A child is physically developing, and this includes their brain. One could make the case that a person could vote once they reach physical maturity, but that varies from person to person and how could we measure that a person was done maturing? Height and weight wouldn't work because adult weight varies significantly from person to person, and many adults end up smaller than many young children. However, we can go by the history of our species, and that says that the majority of us have done the vast majority of our physical development by 18, and I could see a case made for 16 or possibly even 15.

    We don't require that a person be competent to vote to do so, true. But allowing a 6 year old to vote is just BEGGING for fraud, or at a minimum, randomness. The purpose of voting is to measure the preferences of the electorate; I think it's fair to exclude those who can reasonably be thought to lack the capacity to have a preference.

  6. Matt -- I think you're conflating two slightly different issues, vote-from-birth (which Gobry argues for) and middle and high school voting. Vote-from-birth advocates basically argue that all citizens get a vote, but presumably parents would exercise it for the first several years, at least. I think that's worth thinking about, but it's not what I'm talking about, which is basically teenagers. For them, yes, some of them would be not really competent to vote -- but that's true for a not small group of eligible voters, and we don't lose much sleep over that. Nor, IMO, should we.

    As I said, we allow, and really actually encourage, middle and high school kids to participate in democracy in other ways. Why not voting? Or should 14 year olds be banned from electioneering?

  7. As I said, I could see a case for lowering the age somewhat. But I think we'd like to avoid getting too close to immaturity. And, without a lowering of the age of majority in general, it certainly runs the risk of exacerbating the "bonus vote for parents" problem. But this also begs the question of what the age of majority should be. I think anchoring the voting age at the age of majority makes plenty of sense. I just don't know that 18 has to be it; as I said earlier, 16 would be tolerable, and maybe even 15.

    All in all, I can't say I recall too many people agitating for this; it just doesn't seem to me important enough to run the various risks.

    That said, we're talking in purely abstract hypotheticals anyway, because this is dead in the water.

  8. Matt,

    I don't see this in terms of "risks". If we're talking about 12 and up (what I said -- but I think 10 or up would be basically the same)...if some of the voters act irresponsibly, so? What's the harm? Similarly, although I'm not really pushing the case, I'll have to be convinced that it's a problem if parents determine the kids' votes (which is in fact I assume likely at the lower edge of the age range). The kids are citizens for other purposes; why not this one?

    Anyway...I agree that it's unlikely to happen any time soon, but I'd say it's a lot more likely than anything that would require a constitutional amendment, and perhaps more likely to happen somewhere than reforms that require Congressional action. I'm not expecting it, but could it happen in one state sometime in the next 20 years? Unlikely, but not entirely impossible.

  9. i think that voting under 10 should be aloud because kids have a voice and they should let the world hear it and we are smart enough to vote just give us a chance !!

  10. Getting kids engaged at a younger age might encourage participation later in life. It also might prompt the more responsible and curious of them to become more informed.

    I have kids.


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