Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sunday Question for Everyone (2)

What should the minimum age for voting be? Why?


  1. I actually think 18 is the correct line. It's a natural transition at the same time high schoolers head to college or the workforce.

    JB's advocacy of youth voting is intellectually engaging, but, in my view, unpersuasive.

  2. 18 -- it's the age at which most people attain the freedoms and responsibilities of adulthood. Below that age, why should anyone who isn't responsible for making their own decisions be entrusted with making decisions for the collective whole? It's important to maintain the connection between collective and personal freedom -- lose that connection and we risk cheapening either or both.

  3. Why not 16? If you are old enough to pay taxes shouldn't you be able to vote

  4. 16 or 17 - I think people are more likely to register and vote while they're still at home and in high school.

    Since studies show that, after voting for the first time, people become significantly more likely to vote the next time there's an election. My guess is that if we get them started in their later high school years, we could increase turnout by a noticeable margin.

  5. 14 at the oldest, maybe lower. Anyone old enough to read has a basic idea of their interests and preferences. At the very least kids ought to be able to vote for school boards.

  6. No minimum but the maximum age should be 50. I'm sure the Dems can think of a semi-plausible sounding reason. If the Repubs can pass anti-Dem voter laws under the nonsense banner of preventing voter fraud, no reason why the Dems cant pass anti-Repub voter laws under an equally bullsh*t reason.

  7. 16 is definitely old enough. Taxation without representation is not cool... I'd prefer younger but politically think 16 is what's winnable. Hammer away on the fact that 16 year olds work and pay taxes but can't vote. 12 would be a good age also, 6 yr senate terms mean a senator can face voters when Jack & Jill are 12 & 13 & still be in office & voting for war / draft as soon as they're old enough to be affected

    1. This is the best argument. People can be sent off to die by leaders they never had the chance to vote for.

  8. Any American citizen who is willing and able to fill out their own ballot in their native language without assistance should get a vote regardless of age. I would even enfranchise non-citizen permanent residents for all local and state elections because they have a direct interest in those elections.

    1. Needing assistance to fill out a ballot should not be disqualifying. Nor should illiteracy.

    2. And I agree with you 100%. I am using ability to fill out a ballot without assistance as a guaranteed qualification for voting for minors, but inability to fill out a ballot should not disqualify anyone who is of age. Any American citizen with the capacity to make an independent decision should be allowed to vote, which means just about every American over 18 regardless of literacy or disability or criminal background or level of education. Those under 18 who are capable of filling out a ballot without assistance are also generally capable of making a decision by themselves, so I am using it as a proxy requirement for minors.

  9. Many laws are passed that directly affect children of all ages (taxes, birth control & abortion, education, etc.). They should get the right to vote at the earliest reasonable age so they can express their preferences on those issues. I'm thinking around 13 would be a good age. Most children younger than that can't do much more than vote like their parents do. 13 is frequently treated as the age a child becomes in some sense an adult in many cultures and religions, so it seems like an age we might actually be able to reach a consensus about (eventually).

  10. I think 18 or older, when you're 16 most teenagers haven't experienced life and have not even finished their high school education. Teenagers could be more easily manipulated by the government. Be it Democrat or Republican (most likely the latter)
    Lucas, Just Write!

  11. When an 18 year old can go die for our country... then he/she has the right to vote for (or against) the crazies who send him/her there. IMHO.

  12. Im open to your idea that we don't need a minimum age, though I'd say I'm more solidly for lowering it to say 15/16 for now. Another possibility - and this is more of a pragmatic preference - would be to lower the age further or eliminate it, but require those below a certain age to vote with parental permission, kind of like how 17 year olds can join the military with permission. I'm not saying that's the ideal criteria, but it might be easier to push through but would still have the effect of encouraging greater civic participation among young people

  13. 18 is fine. Kids younger than that who want to get involved have plenty of ways. If you volunteer for your favored candidate and get 20 people to vote who otherwise wouldn't have it's as good as voting 20 times.

  14. Last time we went here I was a staunch supporter of vote-from-birth; this time I must admit that Couves (way up the thread) makes a compelling case for 18 based on the theory of legal agency.

    Couves' argument (I think) relies on a view of democracy that sees voting as 'enlightened citizens taking responsibility for the management of the state's affairs'. In that frame, 18 is an eminently reasonable threshhold, based on the perfectly applicable concept of agency.

    There's another frame, much baser, that sees voting as "getting my/our share". In that (baser) conception, vote from birth is a much fairer way to run the nation, as its hard to believe that adults do an adequate job of protecting minors' interest, or, "access to their share".

    Couves does make a great point.

    Strictly pragmatically, and with not a shred of pride in my position, I'm sticking with vote from birth.

    1. Thanks, CSH. Yes, the idea is that collective action is only legitimate as an extension of individual freedom, expressed through voting for representatives as our agents. This is the traditional liberal theory of democracy, even if "free" was once defined by race, sex and the possession of property. I have no problem with revisiting the current criteria for who is “free,” but not with saying that it simply doesn't matter (see my questions, below).

    2. It also seems to me that letting children fend for themselves at the voting booth would represent the ultimate abdication of responsibility to protect them.

  15. Potential voters are subject to registration drives and attempts at persuasion and mobilization, and politicians accumulate all sorts of data about individual voter preferences. We may wish to shelter young children from all of this. Yet allowing younger teens to vote would increase the funding for public schools, public health programs, and other things that young people need, and ameliorate the skew of public resources towards senior citizens. An age of 14 or 15 to vote sounds right.

  16. To everyone who believes that those under 18 years old should have the right to vote -- would you also favor the emancipation of adolescents of the same age? It seems reasonable to expect anyone capable of making decisions for other people to also be capable of making decisions for themselves. And if they can’t be entrusted with responsibility for themselves, how can they be entrusted with the power to make decisions for the community they live in?

    1. Couves, I'll take a cut at this, having thrown my chips in with vote-from-birth. First, there's a famous little book by Jeffrey Fox called "How to Become CEO", which is 100 or so pages of aphorisms about making it in management. I don't have the book in front of me, but I recall a memorable rule being "The workers think in terms of what's good for themselves, management thinks in terms of what's good for the organization".

      Obviously, not all management does so. Presumably most workers think they should be management; presumably (per Fox) they spend their days mostly focused on the slings and arrows coming their way in their stupid company.

      It seems to me that your view of voters is comparable to Fox's view of managers. Everyone thinks they're a manager, probably everyone also thinks they vote using the high-minded methods you advocate.

      So here's where I net out: to the extent a test can be devised that 'really really' separates the managers/responsible voters from the chaff, a test that's reliable and valid and not thinly-veiled discrimination, I support the 18-year-old qualification, with only those passing the aforementioned test allowed to vote.

      Until that blessed day, I'm still for vote-from-birth.

    2. CSH, democracy is based on each person's natural right to have role in the management of society. It seems to work pretty well without a test.

    3. Couves, its hard to write this without sounding antagonistic, and I certainly don't mean to, but do you really believe that? I mean that most voters are concerned with effective management when they step into the voting booth?

      Some are. And the ones that aren't are hard to detect, as they report they're management focused to the exit pollster, even though they're not. Its hard to know the share of good managers in the voting population; I guess I am less sanguine than you.

      BTW - "what's in it for me" could mean perks or other quid pro quos, but it could also be something simple like "I identify with such-and-such party, Candidate X is from that party, so go Candidate X cause we're THE BEST!" Such a sentiment presumably makes a voter feel pretty good while being wholly removed from what it takes to manage whichever office the candidate seeks.

    4. If a parent neglects their children, those kids can be taken away by the state, or the parent could even be prosecuted. But there's nothing to hold adult voters accountable for failing to look out for the interests of the young.

      It's two different kinds of reciprocality. The parent has power over AND obligations toward the child. As voters, we have power over each other, but we don't have any sort of enforceable obligations.

    5. CSH, of course people vote based on their interests, as is their right. My point is that no one needs to prove themselves worthy of the vote, because their ownership of it is based on their inalienable rights as a free human being.

      I can't think of an alternate theory that allows children to vote and yet still maintains the vote as a right that cannot be infringed.

    6. Anon, I'm not exactly sure what you're trying to argue.. but our representative form of government has all sorts of obligations. When they are ignored, they are enforced by the courts and, ultimately, by the people.

    7. Governments have obligations, voters do not. Unlike a parent, a voter cannot be prosecuted or lose their power because they cast a neglectful or abusive vote.

    8. True, and your point is...?

    9. But Couves, if its natural (and inalienable) that folks vote their interests, then its unfair (and in the context of the debt or climate, arguably dangerous) not to allow children to vote.

      Go back to the corporate analogy. Stand around the water cooler this morning and someone will be talking about the Michigan comeback and (a progressive, perhaps) the UConn win, and 'Wilson, from accounts' will be pretty typically bitching about how much this place sucks.

      No one asks Wilson who should be CEO. Suppose Wilson had an 'inalienable right' to choose the CEO. Fairness (or sanity) suggests that the lady in HR - who Wilson hates cause she didn't process Wilson's latest HC claim rapidly enough - should at least have an equal vote. Also the guy whose parking spot Wilson thinks he deserves. This is, I think, obvious, no?

      But again, we don't let Wilson have any say whatsoever in who will be the CEO. But we let him pick the President, even though he is entirely indifferent (actually, hostile) to the interests of the HR lady and the guy with the parking spot...and minors.

      So set aside agency, which as I said above is a decent argument on its own merits:

      If no one has the interests of minors legitimately close to their hearts in the voting booth, and a disturbing percentage of the populace is simply voting their own interest, well -

      - why shouldn't minors vote given those assumptions?

    10. It's also "unfair" that we have to grow old and weak with age. Childhood is likewise a natural part of life, in which children are necessarily dependent on their parents and society in general. They will soon be a full and equal part of that society (and we can even push that entry up a bit), but to talk about a child's condition in terms of "fairness" strikes me as odd.

      I'm not sure why you assume that voters don’t have the interests of children in mind when voting. Voters are responsible for the laws and institutions that care for children.

      Ultimately it does all come down to agency -- the best reason to not allow children to vote is that they are not prepared for it. It’s not surprising that no one here is arguing for emancipating children under 18 -- it’s the same reason why we shouldn’t allow them to vote.

  17. Couves, you asked if people supporting minors having the right to vote would you also favor the emancipation of adolescents of the same age. I was pointing out a significant difference in those two situations.

    When one person has power over another, that power should either be accountable (as in that of parent over child or government official over citizen) or symmetric (as in that of voters over each other). The power of adult voters over minors is neither accountable nor symmetric.

    1. But even the personal accountability of parent over child that you describe is a product of a system that's "neither accountable nor symmetric." That is, we have chosen, through our representatives, to enact laws that protect our children. There's no cosmic system of accountability in operation here, just laws created through the democratic process.

      And this still doesn't address my original question: If you're prepared to give minors power over other people, then why can't they have power over themselves? I think the answer is obvious: they're not prepared to exercise either kind of power. Also, unrelated to this issue of agency, I think it's beneficial for children to be guided and directed by adults. We could perhaps push adulthood back a couple of years, but we shouldn't relinquish the natural responsibility of adults to care for their children as they are prepared for life as adults.

    2. This isn't my bailiwick, and anonymous is arguing far more effectively than I, but Couves - of course the parent is accountable for her behavior wrt her child! Its the very laws you acknowledge that create that accountability.

      By distinct contrast - when Grandma Nell votes for the strongly-anti-AGW politician because climate change legislation causes short-term economic damage, thus jeopardizing Grandma Nell's social security, and in Grandma Nell's measured opinion Grandson Eddie would far prefer to live in an oven in his own dotage than force dear old Granny to take a pay cut today -

      - Grandson Eddie has ZERO recourse. Not by the law, not by cosmic accountability, nothing. All he can do is go buy a bathing suit to prepare for the world that will be bequeathed to him by adults who are "concerned" with his interest (wink, wink, nod, nod).

    3. "but Couves - of course the parent is accountable for her behavior wrt her child! Its the very laws you acknowledge that create that accountability."

      That's my whole point! We've created laws to protect children through the very system that you seem to think doesn't represent children's interests.

    4. Actually, to flip sides for a moment, Grandson Eddie does have some recourse. He could support entitlement cuts for retirees, confiscatory capital gains taxes, or inflationary monetary policy to punish older "savers". That's probably the reason there isn't a louder push for youth voting--eventually they get their turn. Our children get to carve our epitaphs.

      But I'm not quite seeing Couves's point. Voters choose the representatives that enact the policies that grant parental authority and impose parental obligations. But if we let parents and children vote, then the process is symmetric--parents, children (and everyone else) vote for the laws that govern parents and children (and everyone else).

      It may be that children can't be trusted to use this power wisely, but CSH is right that that reasoning doesn't stop with kids--lots of people will misuse the power of voting. I certainly would have cast lots of stupid votes as a teenager. But I cast lots of stupid votes in my 20s, too. By the time I'm old I'll probably think the votes I cast now are stupid. And if I could look in the future I'd probably think those votes are stupid too.

    5. "We've created laws to protect children through the very system that you seem to think doesn't represent children's interests."

      Surely one law isn't enough to justify a system. For example, if we had a monarchy instead of a democracy, even if the monarchy was steadfast and diligent in prosecuting child abuse that still wouldn't be enough to justify the absence of democracy.

      I don't think the issue is whether the system is adequately representing your interest.
      Even if a benevolent dictator was better at governing our country than the people's representatives, I would still prefer the representatives.

      Bear in mind that even if kids voted, most of the voters would still be adults. If adults uniformly oppose something, kids would lose. (So nothing like this). But if adults are closely divided, why shouldn't kids have a say? If a kid asks a question of her parents and gets two different answers, there's a good chance she'll be able to operate under whichever answer she prefers.

    6. Couves notes there are laws that ensure that childrens' interests are adequately met by parents or caregivers. A child's interest in being fed regularly or accessing proper medical care is enforced by the state, at least in theory.

      Children also have particular interests in the political arena, with AGW and debt being two prominent examples. Unlike being fed or accessing health care, there is no law, realistically no hope of a law, that even attempts to ensure that a child's interests in the political arena are adequately served by his or her guardian. For me, even brief reflection makes this painfully obvious.

      So I guess if you can envision a law that will enforce proper guardianship in the political arena, with even a shadow of the effectiveness of the (admittedly poorly-enforced) laws in other areas, you can talk me into keeping the franchise at 18-and-older.

    7. CSH, Anon - I guess what it comes down to for me is the fact that children are necessarily, by their nature, dependent on adults. It doesn't seem like anyone is arguing for universal childhood emancipation, only that they be allowed to vote. So I'll ask again, why should they exercise power over others that we don't trust them to exercise for themselves?

    8. That's actually a slightly different wording, and it has a simpler answer--it's not the same power. The power of a voter is not comparable to the power of a guardian over a minor.

      (If you want an answer to the question you asked previously, you can just scroll up.)

      The autonomy of children isn't a binary thing--it's not possible to put children under constant, perfect surveillance. We frequently put children in situations in which they could cause other people harm--consider how an unlucky bout of roughhousing or fighting at the playground could cause permanent injury. Children, from a young age, have the power to hurt other children--a terrible power indeed.

      Compared to that, the possible harm resulting from children voting is modest. A voter is one of a multitude--they might make a wrong decision, but that wrong decision only has consequences if most other voters make the same wrong decision. Voting is a great opportunity for teaching responsibility. It's like a driver's education car where the passenger has a brake pedal--we, the ever-so-wise adults, can outvote them. (BTW, if you actually want to prevent kids from harming people, taking away their driver's licenses and giving them the vote would be a good trade.) They see the candidates, they have (naive) views on which candidate will be better, they cast a vote, see who wins, and see how well the victor does in office. Victory and defeat at the ballot box both contain hard lessons about responsibility and the limitations of our knowledge and power.

      But, although I think kids voting would be good experience for kids, and therefore in the long run better for society even if the kids give inferior votes (which I'm not entirely sure they would), that's not my primary argument. It's simply wrong to look at society as one bloc of adults exercising responsibility over one bloc of kids. Parents have responsibilities to their kids. Voters have responsibilities (though not accountability) to each other. That includes responsibility to kids, but it also includes responsibility to other adults.

      Children, by their nature, have a special dependence on their parents. Children are also dependent on the rest of their community, but so are the rest of us. A child in public school depends on the government to run that school in exactly the same way that retiree on Medicare depends on the government to run that entitlement.

      The main question is not what power we should trust kids with, but what gives us the right to exert different kinds of power over them. In the case of parents, it's the fact that the parent created the child, and the parent has enforceable obligations to that child. In the case of voters, it's that voters have power over each other.

      To put this bluntly, if that child is not yours, you have no more right to tell that child what to do than the child has to tell you what to do. Of course, adults frequently tell children what to do, but usually their power is delegated either from the child's parents or the child's government. Children are not generally advised to follow instructions coming from arbitrary adults, who could very well be predators.

    9. Quoting myself: "The power of a voter is not comparable to the power of a guardian over a minor."

      Let me put this differently to make sure that you understand that your question has been fully answered. The kind of power that a minor is prevented from exercising on their own behalf is different in kind from the kind of power a voter would exercise.

    10. "The kind of power that a minor is prevented from exercising on their own behalf is different in kind from the kind of power a voter would exercise."

      That's certainly true, although I don't see how it answers my question. But rather than repeating myself, perhaps a more theoretical discussion would help....

      Before we determine whether children have a right to vote, we need to be able to identify why anyone has a right to vote. For me, it's rooted in self ownership. Through a social contract, that self ownership demands that we each have an equal say in how society is run -- expressed through the vote. So from our personal freedom comes our freedom to vote as participants in society.

      Children, on the other hand, are not free in that they do not have ultimate control over their lives. When they reach 18, they are emancipated. With that personal freedom comes the freedom to vote.

      So why should anyone care about the theoretical underpinnings of voting? I think your own words give us examples of how removing voting from sound footings can have dangerous implications:

      1) You talk about adolescent voting as a way for sometimes-unruly children to learn to act as adults... a sort of training wheels. Perhaps the political system already treats voters like children in some ways, but things can only get worse if we actually embrace the role of children-voters who are learning as opposed to adult-voters who are acting.

      2) You compare the dependence of children to that of retired people. You don't come right out and say it, but the implication seems to be that they have a comparable lack of personal freedom.

      As I've said previously, breaking the connection between personal and collective freedom threatens to undermine either or both. In #1 and #2, I think you've given great examples of both. Allowing children to partake in an act that was previously reserved to free people can only erode the inviolability of our freedoms and the integrity of our democracy.

    11. "For me, it's rooted in self ownership. Through a social contract, that self ownership demands that we each have an equal say in how society is run -- expressed through the vote. So from our personal freedom comes our freedom to vote as participants in society."

      I would agree with the first two sentences, but that's exactly why children should vote, and the third sentence is wrong. Self-ownership is different from personal freedom. A child (or anyone else over whom someone else has guardianship or power of attorney, though note that adults in this condition can usually still vote) is missing some personal freedom. But the child still owns themselves, in the same way that a child might own some property even if their guardian has the power to direct their decisions over it.

      Contracts have two sides. The American social contract gives American citizens the power to vote, but in exchange you are governed by the other American citizens. (You don't get to vote in Canadian elections nor do you have to obey Canadian law). Contracts are not grants of power of one citizen over another, they agreements made between citizens.

      I will come out and say that the social contract binds (and empowers) children and adults in exactly the same way. Not as children or as adults, but as citizens.

      It's worth considering the case of ordinary contracts signed by minors. It varies by jurisdiction, but some classes of contracts are enforceable against both minors and adults, while other contracts can be disaffirmed by a minor at any later time. But this never means that an adult (other than guardian) can just impose whatever contract they like on a child. But that's exactly what a social contract that denies children the right to vote is.

      Say a child owned a business (this can happen) and an adult had signed a employment contract with that business. It would make no sense for that employee to complain to the government "hey, why should this kid be my boss when she's not even her own boss?" The kid is the boss because the contract says she is as long as the adult works there. She can still be grounded by her parents, though.

      The case of contracts I think resolves objection #1. Children sometimes use the same institutions as adults. This doesn't mean those institutions are treating everyone like children, it means that they're treating everyone like people. Like citizens.

      I think it's the case of adult dependents where your argument breaks down most. Because of some serious disabilities, my mother acts as my (older) uncle's guardian. She has great power over his finances and daily life. Trusting him with the same personal freedom as most adults would be foolish. Now, my uncle has no interest in political events, and that's probably good. However, if my uncle suddenly started asking to vote, he would probably be able to. And I think that's also good.

      He doesn't, shouldn't, and really can't have the same personal freedom that you or I do. So your argument would imply not only that he shouldn't be allowed to vote. And I think that's immoral--he's a citizen, he deserves a voice, if he wants one.

      I'm not absolutely committed to children voting, but I am absolutely committed to the difference between self-ownership and personal freedom. Not everyone has full freedom, but nobody is owned by anyone else.

    12. Anon, thank you for the very thoughtful response. I agree with the distinction between self-ownership and personal freedom -- parents are only temporary guardians of their children, they don't actually own them. The child's self-ownership will be fully actualized when he or she turns 18 and attains the freedom of adulthood.

      Regarding your theory, it's not clear to me why a child's self-ownership should entail the right to vote, but not all of the other rights of adult citizenship. You mention a number of adult freedoms that children possess to some degree, but parents can put an end to most of them at the simple whim of their discretion. That's not true freedom in any sense of the word -- certainly not the freedom of the voter alone in the voting booth.

      My concern is that children lack the ultimate freedom to live as they see fit. Voting is the collective version of this same freedom they lack -- the ultimate freedom to govern our society as one sees fit. Voting is not merely one among many other freedoms -- it's the very summation and definition of a free person acting in society.

      Regarding your older uncle, you make a great point. We could say the same for imprisoned criminals -- if we take away their personal freedom for the protection of society, why not also protect society from their vote? I don't think the vote should be taken away in either case, because the deprivation of freedom is necessarily subject to error. If and when it is, the vote is the last recourse for someone who may have been wronged by their own society. But I can certainly see how you could follow my principles to a different conclusion, as indeed many others have.

      Regarding children voting, you seem to think that their inherent incapacity to act freely isn't a big deal because they at least won't get us into too much trouble (I disagree, but that's a different story). But I want prisoners to retain their right to vote precisely because of my hope that they will have a substantial impact on our society, in the event that the police power of the state is abused.

    13. "I don't think the vote should be taken away in either case, because the deprivation of freedom is necessarily subject to error. If and when it is, the vote is the last recourse for someone who may have been wronged by their own society."

      I agree with this. I think our primary difference might that you believe voting is the culmination of freedom and responsibility, but you also extend the right to adults lacking freedom or responsibility for the reason I quoted just now, I hold that quoted reason as the very foundation of the right to vote. All of us are deprived of some freedom, those deprivations may be subject to error, so all of us, even children, should have some recourse. Some children are mistreated just like prisoners or the disabled. Perhaps child abuse would have been criminalized sooner (it wasn't always) if children could vote?

    14. "All of us are deprived of some freedom, those deprivations may be subject to error, so all of us, even children, should have some recourse."

      Yes, I agree exactly... except for the part about children, who lack the capacity for exercising freedom and therefore lack moral claim to it. In some instances this is not the case, and they can be emancipated by the courts (and I'd be happy to see them given the right to vote at the same time). But even if the courts get that decision wrong, the minor's recourse is universally quite simple -- just wait a couple of years.

      It seems like your hope and expectation is that children would use the vote to exert political power as an interest group. I think this is terribly dangerous -- not only do they lack the ability to exercise the foundational freedom of our society, but their dependency on adults is good for both their personal development and for the healthy development of our society. It's not a good idea for children to decide what sort of special rights they should have against their parents and schools. As someone with family members who work in the public schools, I believe that children frequently exert too much influence and receive too little guidance as it is.

    15. "It seems like your hope and expectation is that children would use the vote to exert political power as an interest group."

      Not really. I think good electoral outcomes are slightly more likely than bad, but I don't expect the scale to be very large either way. Some kids will vote like 19-year olds, some kids will vote like their middle aged parents.

      I don't think it's right to say that anyone would "lack the capacity for exercising freedom" unless we're talking about someone who is dead or comatose. Children can obviously make choices, the problem is that we deem those choices irresponsible.

      The question is: what authority we may use to remove their autonomy because we deem them irresponsible? They are human beings, they are making decisions based on their view of the world and their view of their own interests, and we have decided to overrule those decisions.

      It is certainly not just that we are adults and they are children. Because we do not (and should not) teach children to obey all adults. Some adults are bad people. We teach children that if they encounter one of these bad adults, that they should go and tell *specific* adults about that--e.g. their parents, their teachers, the police, those which our society has placed in positions of authority or trust. We even teach that when one of these trusted adults abuses that authority, that they should inform a different adult. This is a very important lesson, one that our society has learned at horrific cost.

      I think that for our decision to remove autonomy and place specific adults in authority over children to have legitimacy, we must allow children to participate in the process by which we make that decision. Not that their participation would change the outcome of that particular decision. Similarly, if I oppose some regulation that government puts on me, my participation may not be enough to change that regulation. But my having the right to participate in that process gives that regulation legitimacy.

    16. Children haven't lost any freedom because they don't have it to begin with -- they're born totally dependent on their parents. They depend on the guardianship of their parents precisely because they lack the maturity necessary to make good decisions. To subject parental authority to the child's vote is itself a kind of child abuse. Every child's development depends on their subservience to their parents, whether they recognize that or not.

    17. They're born that way, but it's not a matter of biology that they stay that way. Suppose a 14 year old wants to quit school, get a job, and live on his own. In this country that would be illegal (at least the quitting school part) while in other times and places that would be unremarkable. (And if your country was Uzbekistan you would probably be better off if you had the option of getting a job instead of picking cotton in "school".)

      So, of course, that 14 year old has lost freedom. I would regard that as fortunate--a 14 year old making that decision in this country is almost certainly making a mistake. But that just makes it a fortunate deprivation of freedom.

      You could just as easily say that to subject guardianship law to the vote of adults who need guardians is a kind of abuse, and it would make no less sense.

    18. "But that just makes it a fortunate deprivation of freedom."

      Which is exactly my point. You were saying that we need to give children the vote, lest they be subjected to an unjust deprivation of freedom. But if the deprivation is actually good, then the need to reverse it can't be a justification for giving them the vote.

    19. No, a benevolent dictator may deprive me of freedom in lots of fortunate ways (I make lots of bad decisions) but it would still be unjust and illegitimate.

      There have been lots and lots of times when the state deprived children of freedom unjustly. Sometimes governments force children to stay with parents who abuse them. Sometimes governments themselves abuse children.

      Perhaps I confused everything when I signed on to your statement "the vote is the last recourse for someone who may have been wronged by their own society." I do still insist that this statement applies at least as strongly to children as it does to adults. To be frank, the average 14 year old would do a better job making decisions over his or her own future than my uncle in his 50s would. That's not his fault, that's just reality. But, really, if either my uncle or the 14 year old were being abused, neither of them would find voting to be of much use.

      I think that all deprivations of liberty--whether good deprivations like truancy law for kids or bad deprivations like soda bans for adults--require democratic legitimacy. Government must be built on the consent of the governed. Everyone governed by a law should be able to vote on the law.

    20. "No, a benevolent dictator may deprive me of freedom in lots of fortunate ways (I make lots of bad decisions) but it would still be unjust and illegitimate."

      It's the human condition to be born into the benevolent dictatorship of a family. As much as I count myself an individualist, it seems obvious to me that we're naturally dependent (and don't enjoy freedom) during the crucial years of our development. Children need nurturing and protection, along with a supervised introduction to the freedoms of adulthood. If you feel the need to blame anything for this situation, blame our mammalian biology.

    21. re: individualism and family, there's a Corey Robin post that seems relevant:

      If we're setting the age of majority at 18, we can't blame biology for this. In the state of nature, I don't think a parent would have the moral right to constrain a 14 year old who wanted to leave the household and refuse any further education from his parents or village. Truancy law cannot be derived from human nature, let alone mammalian biology.

      Let me restate my biggest point: Self-ownership and the right to vote do not imply or require personal freedom or personal responsibility as demonstrated by the case of adults requiring guardians or other special supervision.

      There are pragmatic reason why denying children the right to vote isn't as harmful as denying supervised adults. Children get to vote eventually.

      But showing it's not as harmful isn't the same as showing that it's justified, and we haven't found any reason for denying children votes that does not, in principle, also apply to supervised adults. All that's saving you here is that you have the personal decency to be inconsistent.

    22. As I've said before, we can pick some age other than 18, and we can allow specific exceptions... but to deny freedom to everyone during childhood is hardly arbitrary or unjust-- it's necessary. For every one of us there is a period at the beginning of our life during which we can not and should not be entrusted with the freedom to control our lives, personally and collectively.

    23. Voting isn't a matter of "freedom to control our lives"--if your side loses or even if you refuse to participate, you are still bound by the result.

      Given that we have, rightfully, taken varying degrees of the freedom to control their own lives from adults, do you think it ever makes sense to take away an adult's right to vote?

    24. Yes, as I said, voting is how we control our lives collectively. When it comes to voting, each individual has freedom of action, but no guarantee that they will achieve some desired outcome, just as in their personal lives.

      Unlike children, adults have the capacity to exercise freedom. A court may decide to take away an adult’s freedom at some point, but they've at least possessed the capacity previous to that point. On the other hand, we know with certainty that there is a period at the beginning of every person’s life during which they cannot exercise freedom -- that‘s dictated by our development (I think we can at least agree that an infant cannot hold a job or vote.). However, we cannot say with equal certainty that every individual who has been deprived of freedom has lost that freedom justly. For that reason, I don’t want to take away the right to vote from anyone.

    25. "When it comes to voting, each individual has freedom of action, but no guarantee that they will achieve some desired outcome, just as in their personal lives."

      If that's all it takes to have freedom of action, then children clearly have it. They can try to do whatever they want--they just aren't guaranteed a desired outcome (their parents might say no).

      This is why voting as freedom doesn't really make sense. Voting is the foundation of the legitimacy of the state's power, not the summation of the citizen's freedom. That's why citizens without freedom should still be able to vote.

      You cannot say with certainty that any child who asks to vote does not have the capacity for freedom. In fact, I can say with certainty that they do have the capacity for freedom. All that is required to have a capacity for freedom is to have a goal and try to accomplish it.

      "A court may decide to take away an adult’s freedom at some point, but they've at least possessed the capacity previous to that point. "

      That's not true, they may have had that freedom taken away before they reached the age of majority.

    26. "If that's all it takes to have freedom of action, then children clearly have it. They can try to do whatever they want--they just aren't guaranteed a desired outcome (their parents might say no)."

      Being under the control of a parent or guardian most certainly means you are NOT free. To use another example: If you meet the constitutional requirements, you have the right to serve as President. But that doesn't mean you have a right to actually be elected -- get it?

      "You cannot say with certainty that any child who asks to vote does not have the capacity for freedom. In fact, I can say with certainty that they do have the capacity for freedom. All that is required to have a capacity for freedom is to have a goal and try to accomplish it."

      If a child wants to be treated as an adult, I'm all for having a process to legally emancipate him or her.

      "That's not true, they may have had that freedom taken away before they reached the age of majority."

      Good point! I'm not actually philosophically opposed to the idea of withholding the vote from an adult that is under another's guardianship, or who is imprisoned. But to prevent an unjust deprivation of freedom, it seems sensible to automatically give the vote to people at 18 and to never take it away.

      It really comes down to the fact that children are, by definition, not capable of acting as adults. That assertion is not subject to error, even if the determination of exactly when adulthood begins is.

    27. "Being under the control of a parent or guardian most certainly means you are NOT free."

      That's true, I meant that as a reductio ad absurdum of the idea that voting represents significant "freedom of action". I don't usually cite the Voter's Paradox, but I do think a single child's opinion is more likely to change the course of a family than a single voter is likely to flip an election.

      To be honest, I'm not absolutely committed to kids voting. I think a better argument against it is that it's not fair to have more literate or mature kids starting voting before illiterate or immature (and possibly poorer) kids. At least when the limit is at 18, almost everyone can start at the same time (whereas if the limit were 12 or 60 not everyone would be prepared or live long enough start voting).

      But, at the very least, I think I've answered pretty thoroughly the questions you put forth up here--I think I've made very clear why I don't think support for emancipation (of adults or children) should be a prerequisite for the right to vote.

    28. Anon, I appreciate you sharing your viewpoint, even if I’ve struggled to understand it. I can definitely see elements of it in the way many people think about voting.

      Yes, a single person voting is not particularly effectual. As Jonathan often points out, other political activities by an individual are more likely to make a difference. And of course a great many people do think of voting as a pointless waste of time... But that doesn’t make it any less the free act of individual voters that controls our democracy, and a matter of great pride to voters across the US.

      Regarding literacy, I don’t see that as a roadblock. Once you’ve established that children who are developmentally incapable of reading have a right to vote, then you would need to have a system of voting that also identifies candidates by their pictures. Of course, educated middle class children would still be more likely to be taken to the polls (unless voting was accomplished in the classroom -- we never talked about that)… it would be one more reason for me to move out of the suburbs.

  18. I think the age should vary by state, on any of these standards:

    1) Age where truancy laws stop
    2) Age where you can be tried as an adult in court
    3) Age where it is legal to work

    I think that any are defensible.

  19. I think age 18 is fine. But I would prefer that people have to take and pass a basic test in order to earn the right to vote. Reason being, very little is taught in public schools about the purpose of the constitution and limited government. If adults were better informed, they would be more likely to research the issues and candidates before casting a vote which could impact the future of all citizens. If we value driver safety enough to require some prior knowledge before getting behind the wheel, then shouldn't we place, at the very least, the same value on deciding the future of our 300+ million citizens?


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