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Abolish the Voting Age!

2020 March 96 min read

The fundamental idea of democracy is that everyone affected by politics should have a say in it, period, full stop. Children and teenagers are the largest disenfranchised demographic in the first world today, and they are among those most hit by issues of education, healthcare, LGBT+ rights, gun control, and certainly - down the road - climate change. I think they should get to participate in the electoral process. As they say, no taxation without representation.

I had a dream a couple weeks ago where I was arguing with my parents about this - which is funny, because I don't think I ever really thought about the issue before then, much less formed an opinion. I've certainly never seen it in any mainstream political discussion. If I ever become a "youth civil rights" leader, I could do an "I have a dream" speech and have it be... literal.

Helpfully, my dream parents gave some useful counterarguments which I was able to rebut, and my friends helped out as well when I brought this up with them. I'll list some of those arguments here, and my responses for each:

Kids don't understand politics enough; they'll just blindly vote for whoever their parents tell them to.

Most adults don't understand politics either, and are just as blind in the voting booth. Why do "red states" and "blue states" exist? Because most people get their opinions from where they live, who they interact with, and what media they consume. We're all blasted with propaganda 24/7 that is designed to confine our political beliefs into whatever window the corporate class deems acceptable. Just ask your boomer relatives who watch Fox News all day.

By contrast, children have made up the core of some of the biggest first-world political movements in recent years: March for our Lives and Fridays for Future are two high-profile examples from the top of my head. These kids are informed, they're invested, and they're more "deserving" of the right to sway an election than the 30% of American adults who couldn't name the vice president.

Besides, letting children vote will do nothing but encourage more of them to become politically engaged, and they'll be more aware and make better decisions even into their adult life as a result. I think in an ideal society - which would be very different from our own in many ways - there would be more of a push / incentive for kids to learn about the political process, both in school and outside of it. It's not the complexity of these issues that holds kids back; if they can understand trigonometry, they can certainly understand politics too.

But more than that. Arguing that certain demographics "don't know what they're voting for" is and has been a textbook strategy to deny the vote to marginalized groups in the past. During the women's suffrage movement, people argued that women would be beholden to their husbands and susceptible to just following their voting patterns. And 100 years later, that's still partially borne out by evidence, but on moral grounds it's no justification for disenfranchisement.

Requiring a certain level of "knowledge" or "aptitude" to influence policy is something that sounds good in theory, but only leads to autocracy in practice. People's selfishness will usually outweigh their wisdom and experience. This is, again, the whole reason why democracy is a thing.

Kids' parents still make decisions for them; they can't be trusted with this one on their own.

Kids make decisions for themselves all the time, and voting specifically is one of the most secure and legally protected acts in existence. Certainly, kids will be influenced by their parents, as we all are by our immediate surroundings. But if a kid makes up their mind, there's nothing a parent can do to stop it. If we can't trust parents to let their kids vote how they want, we definitely can't let kids choose their classes and extra-curriculars in school, what friends they hang out with, what hobbies they have, etc. (Incidentally, communal parenting is the future.)

What do we do about parents who strategically give birth to lots of kids and raise them with their politics, to increase their political power?

Yes, this is an argument that one of my friends made when the issue came up. To which I say... let 'em. It will have an insignificant effect, especially considering parents can already do this if they're patient enough to wait 18 years. What this argument really boils down to, essentially, is "it's bad when parents have a lot of kids". And it isn't. If it were, raising the voting age would be a silly way to try to deal with it. Parents already do this "strategic childbirth" thing with religion, I'm told, but no one is seriously considering making kids wait 18 years before choosing their faith.

Letting kids vote won't change much; there are more significant issues to worry about.

Absolutely. I'm approaching this purely from a philosophical standpoint. A question I often ponder is: what views and values does our society take for granted that will be looked upon as "backwards" in 150 years? Just like, for example, denying women the vote was taken for granted 150 years ago. But after thinking about this issue for a while, I looked it up and found out that the youth suffrage movement is apparently a thing in many parts of the world, and studies have already shown positive results and corroborated the arguments I've made here.

And so I'm forced to ask myself: what possible justification do I have for not supporting this movement? And my inability to find one is what resigns me to this position. If giving kids the vote really won't change much, then I think that's all the more reason to do it! It should be those who oppose the expansion of democracy who have to justify their position.

I wouldn't run for president on a youth suffrage platform, but I think it would improve society, however slightly, to lift all restrictions on voting, not just the ones we deem "acceptable".

Why not just... make the voting age 13 or something, rather than eliminating it altogether?

Firstly, it's called an "opening offer". (It also makes a better snappy blog post title.) But in all honesty, I can't justify setting any arbitrary cutoff for voting rights, for the same reasons that I reject 18 as that cutoff. If a 12-year-old wants to vote, they should get to vote! It's not mandatory, and a lot of kids just won't care, but I think if you're physically and mentally able to tick a box in a voting booth, you should be able to (and if you're not, there are fallbacks for that already).

Children under 13 are probably the most affected, for example, by trans issues. It's harder to transition the older you get, and under our current system, politicians will never be held directly accountable for the harm they cause by denying these kids the healthcare they need.

Electoralism is just spectacle. Smash the state!

Okay, probably a separate discussion. ;)

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