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From Tuesday's paper: Party self-interest shouldnt be

allowed to colour the debate about widening the franchise

Its a sad thing that, when politicians move to extend the
franchise or otherwise change the voting system, the party
doing it always seems to be the one that benefits.
So, for instance, David Cameron and the Conservatives
are keen to reform the constituency boundaries
something that needs doing to ensure that the
constituencies each have roughly the same number of
voters, but which, it is noticeable, will be of considerable
benefit to the Conservatives. Equally predictably, Labour
are against it, and the Lib Dems will join whichever side
they happen to be less annoyed with at any given
Similarly, the Lib Dems were vocal in their support of the
alternative vote system, a semi-skimmed version of
proportional representation which just happened to be
favourable to their party. It would not surprise me to learn
that in the 19th century the Liberal Party decided to back
womens suffrage on the basis of favourable polling data.
The latest such faux-idealistic vote-grabbing comes from
Alex Salmonds Scottish National Party, which has
demanded that 16- and 17-year-olds be allowed to vote in
a planned 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. Mr
Salmond, presumably, has noticed that support for
independence is much stronger among the young, and so
has decided to try to get more young people involved.
The fact that its self-interested doesnt mean its wrong;
perhaps its perfectly right to give younger teenagers the
vote. The question we need to answer first is this: are
children of that age ready to make informed and
responsible decisions? And second, are we unfairly
denying them involvement in democracy?
We certainly dont entirely trust young people with
important decisions. We dont allow younger teenagers to
drink, or under-17s to drive. We do allow them to have
sex, but not to go to the cinema to watch other people
pretend to have sex in films. We just about let them go
and fight for their country; they can join the Army from the
age of 16, but theyre not allowed to take part in
operations until theyre 18. We dont let them buy
The reason for most of these is that young people arent
very good at decisions. According to the American
Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, theres an
established neurological basis for that.
A part of the brain which is tied up with emotional
responses, the amygdala, is fully active in teenagers; by
contrast, the frontal cortex, which is involved in impulse
control and reasoned behaviour, is very much still under
construction until well into adulthood. Adolescent brains
have far more grey matter than adult ones: it is believed
that the process of pruning the grey matter, which
continues until the early twenties at least, makes the brain
work more efficiently, and is involved in adult behaviour
like forward planning.
The upshot of this is that adolescents are more likely to
act impulsively, more likely to get into fights and accidents
or engage in dangerous behaviour, and less likely to think
about the consequences of their actions. Between the
ages of 15 and 19, your likelihood of dying in an accident
is six times as high as between 10 and 14; crime rates
spike at this age, as well as incidences of binge drinking
and drug use.
Its tempting to suggest that this impulsiveness is a factor
in the independence question. The decision to leave the
UK is a complex and difficult one, with costs and benefits
to factor in, but the Yes answer is easy to paint in simple,
intuitive terms (freedom, independence, liberty) while the
No case involves much more complex (though not
necessarily more worthy) arguments economic stability,
shared history, mutual defence which may be harder to
grasp instinctively and thus would be less appealing to an
impulsive adolescent mind. Of course, this is pure
speculation, but it's a plausible story.
But perhaps it doesnt matter whether adolescents are, on
average, less capable of making reasoned decisions than
adults. There are lots of adults who similarly lack impulse
control, but we would never consider disenfranchising
them; we accept that everyone has a right to a stake in the
electoral process.
You might argue that teenagers deserve to vote simply
because they, too, are taxed, and suffer the consequences
of political decisions, just as we ancients do: more so, in
fact, since theyll generally live longer with them. The
reverse argument, of course, is that these same teenagers
will be able to vote in two years time, and 16 years is just
as arbitrary a cut-off line as 18.
Theres a serious discussion to be had, here, and a
serious case that should be made preferably by powerful
young voices, a group of generational Suffragettes. What
it shouldnt be is an opportunistic land-grab by a self-
interested poparty. Perhaps 16-year-olds should vote, but it should be something we
look at in its own right, not a piece of age-related gerrymandering by Alex Salmond.

Tags: Alex Salmond, Independence

Referendum, neuroscience, scottish independence, scottish
independence party, SNP, Votes at 16

Passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971 granted 11 million Americans between

the ages of 18 and 21 the right to vote. There has been some discussion in recent
years of lowering the age to 16.
Lawmakers in New York City, Baltimore, Texas, Maine, Minnesota and
California have proposed such a change, although with little success. In eighteen
states minors can vote in their states primary if they are 17 and turn 18 before
the general election in November.

Photo by Vox Efx (Flickr)

Those in favor argue that 17-year-olds can join the military with a parents
consent and should likewise be entitled to cast a vote. Many young people are
interested in environmental and education issues as well as politics as evidenced
by this years appeal to the youth vote by presidential candidates.
Opponents argue that few teens will actually vote based on statistics from past
elections. In the 2004 presidential election, 18 to 24-year-olds had the lowest
turnout by age [47%]. They further argue that 16 and 17-year-olds lack
experience and maturity.
Several countries have led the way to a lower voting age. In 2007 Austria
changed its age to 16, joining Brazil, Cuba and Nicaragua.
What do you think about this proposal? Do you feel that you should be allowed
to vote when you turn 16 or 17? If yes, will you register to vote and go to the
polls on election day? Far too many Americans fail to votewill you be one of
those or instead be an example for your elders to follow? For more information
about voting take a look at:

This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench.
He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents
including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit
Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found
hiking, traveling and reading.
Read More Articles From Judge Tom >>
Related Posts:

Reasons To Disagree Reasons To Agree

This just gives parents the opportunity to There are no doubt some 16 year olds
make their kids vote for who they are voting interested enough and mature enough to
for. A 16 year old doesn't care about politics, vote. Equally, there are many people much
and why should they! Heck, I voted for the older who pay no attention whatsoever and
first time this year, and the only reason i walk into the polling booth and cast a
decided which candidate to pick, was by donkey vote. Perhaps the answer is to make
watching the news the night before voting voting like driving - only if you can correctly
day!! answer a multiple choice quiz you get to do
No logic for this to happen. Voting would
probably better suit people over 25. your old enough to sit exams that determine
Lowering the voting age will achieve one your future. your forced to pay tax you
thing only, a vigourous and ruinous should be able to choose how much tax
introduction of student unions into shouldnt you.
secondary schools
A great way idea give people the opportunity
There are simply too many issues that are
over the heads of 16 year olds. to learn about there nation early.

Let kids be kids and not worry about Adult Why not. There are those who want to chuck
issues until they have to. them in jail at 10. Let them vote I say.

17years they can choose better who they I am 16 and go to school with many more 16
want to give vote than to be voter for and 17 year olds as could probably be
politician expected. Arguments such as the fact that
we will be greatly influenced by our parents
I dont think that children know enough to are rubbish! sorry to say,but what makes you
vote at this age and will be heavily think that when someone turns 18 they will
influenced by their parents. Howevver, I do instantly break away from the environment
strongly believe that only those people in and ideas they have been exposed to all
employment or paying taxes should be able their lives? Plus from observance, Many of
to vote! us could probably agree that people are
likely to vote for what is best for them and
the country they have to live in. This is
16 have proven that they are far too
exactly what everyone else does so
irresponsible to have the right to vote
therefore this makes their vote just as
reasonable as yours.
Voting is such a pointless sop to the
masses, it's no wonder even those
With so many teenagers now working and
enfranchised so often fail to exercise their
therefore paying tax, does it not seem right
hard won right. Giving this to mere children
to also allow them to vote. I feel it is unfair to
will only encourage politicians to pander to
require those under 18 to pay tax while not
the immature desires of the iPod generation.
giving them any say in how that tax is spent.
It is decidedly undemocratic.
I firmly believe that few teenagers have
sufficiently mature judgement to vote for a
I agree because I am 16 years old and I
gummint. But then - considering the mob
should have the right to vote. We have to
we've got - neither have the majority of
live in this world also and we might not like
how the other person is considering their
rights. We are young adults also and we
Most 16 year olds are incapable of making should have the right to vote. We
their own sound choices in life. Have them understand the requirements to vote.
uphold our already fallen country? NO
Lower it to the age you start paying tax. I.e,
If they can vote then they should be able to the first time you buy something (GST). No
fight for the country. At 16, people should still taxation without representation. That, or no
be in the education system, hence should one under 18 pays tax.
still be learning and aquiring knowledge
Governments would have to actually listen to
This is totally irresponsible, if they are the youth vote, and decide based on that.
highlighting that kids now days are ignorant, How about we start taking rights and
why give them the vote. It will further priverlages away from over 40's?
degenerate society.
Apathetic and irresponsible voters
16 year olds are still discovering who they outnumber rational voters everytime - I don't
are and what they need. How can they know see what difference is going to be made by
what their country needs? If we extending the franchise to 16 year olds.
acknowledge 16 and 17 year olds the right
to vote on matters crucial to our nation, then
Often parties make promises that do not
they should also be held accountable and
take effect immediately. ie Labour wanted
tried as adults if they appear in court. Extend
that responsibility with this 'right' and I will universal student loans but most people who
back it. Until then, no. Our kids are getting could vote wouldn't have benifited from this.
more rights but we're not holding them 16 year olds, however would and should be
responsible. If they're mature enough to able to choose their government. Also, many
vote, then they should also be responsible. 16 year olds work and pay tax etc.

i dont think 16 year olds should be allowed Yes. As soon as you pay taxes, you should
to vote,at this age they are still earning right have a say in who you pay them to.
from wrong in their own sure there
are a few 16 year olds out there interested in yes young people should have a say to
politics and mature enough to vote but what
about the rest of them? Over my dead body.

They need to grow up first ...would not be of Anybody that is required by law to pay tax
any benifit and is a New Zealand citizen should be
allowed by law to vote.
I totally disagree majority of 16 year olds
only care about how they look or being the You can leave school then. You can pay tax
most popular in school they dont need to be then. You can get married and have children
worried about politics!! I do agree however then. Some people say 16 year olds should
that some 16 year olds do have an interest be tried as adults. You can die for your
in politics and are mature enough to make country at 17. So why shouldn't they be
an informed discission but how ever majority given the vote? It would also encourage
are not. more young people to vote, as many young
people would still be under their parents'
From talking to my own children, the voting roof then, and so their parents could actively
decision would be made for all the wrong involve them.
reasons - my daughter would vote
depending on the 'hottest' looking one! Is
that a basis for national decision making?

Hell no. cant believe this is even up for

debate youre all crazy.

16 is the age of consent im pretty sure that

people who are 16 will soon be the future 18
year olds.. why make them wait to partake in
important political matters of our country?
We could dump them into silly laws that they
would not like and would prefer to change or
have an opinion on but can not.

Well if they pass this law then they would

have more people voting against the parties
for the drinking age rise. They already
brought the 18-19 year olds against the. Do
they really want the 16-17 year olds as well.
Because there are a lot of them. :)

Crazy, what 16 year old is interested in

politics?? I even think there is adults that
shouldn't be allowed to vote haha.. Gov
really need to make a decision on when you
become an adult, sometimes its 16
sometimes its 18 and sometimes its 21. How
confusing is this?? Make a decision and
stick with it!

16 year olds will not be voting for the right

reasons, thus will give in silly votes

No! I think the lack of information NZers of

all ages know about politics is appaling.
Some voters have little idea of why they are
voting for the person. People tend to get
more knowledge as they get older. I think
schools should teach the basics about the
voting system, parties and their policies.
When I was 18 and voted I just copied my
Mothers vote not really knowing what the
parties policies were at all.

Most 16 year olds are ignorant of what's

going on in their country

Too impressionable on their parents and

their choices. Unfortunately for those
genuinely interested they are the exception

Voting in an election where real outcomes

are enforced is by definition is an act of
force and as such should not occur.

Reasons for Remain Neutral

New Zealand cant make up their mind on what age a person becomes an adult. at 20 we can
drink( starting shortly) 18 smoke, 16 have sex and get married 18 fight for new zealand, 14 pay full
fees for a plane ticket under an adult seat, and now their confused on what age voting should take
place, set a age and stick to it. its all fair enough you wanting us 18 year olds to die for a country but
wont let us drink! work it out for yoursleves!

We need an age of maturity and then all these things can be set at that age.

No - most people don't have enough life experience to vote until they are 40 - the problem is, we
need the bodies to be a nation, so we have to let the bodies have a say. Sure, if we need 16 and 17
year olds to be part of society, let them vote. until then, keep them in school.

Nah thats dumb

hmmm1 prelim to adult govt. theres a thought.

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Not over a boy - but over the fact that, at 17, she will not be allowed to vote for president this
November. And the Walled Lake, Mich., teen aims to do something about that.

Holbrook is part of a movement to lower the voting age. It's an idea several states - as well as
foreign countries - are considering as politicians desperately search for ways to boost dismal and
sinking turnout among young adults.

"I am very, very interested in politics in general," said Lindsay, a John Kerry supporter who turns 18
in December. "It just breaks my heart - I'm just going to miss the cutoff."

It sounds counterintuitive: Young adults don't vote, so lower the voting age.

But advocates say 18 is the worst time to start voting because that's when teenagers' lives are in
turmoil - moving away to college, stressing out over graduation, getting a job, joining the armed

And studies show voting is a habit that has to start early. If people don't start out as voters, they're
less likely to ever vote. Some researchers fear that as this generation of nonvoters ages, they will
stay that way, causing a dangerous dive in voter turnout as baby boomers and older generations die
out. In the 2000 election, senior citizens voted at about twice the rate of 18- to 24-year-olds.

"As I was visiting schools, as I talked to classes, I asked them what kind of things would make a
difference," said Minnesota state Sen. Steve Kelley, a Democrat from Hopkins, Minn. "Among the
ideas tossed out were having 17-year-olds be able to vote."

Kelley's bill to allow just that has passed a committee.

Activists are pushing to go further: They want 16-year-olds to be able to vote. At that age most
teenagers can work, pay taxes, drive and be charged as adults for crimes - even be sentenced to
death - said Alex Koroknay-Palicz, executive director of the National Youth Rights Association.
In most states, 16-year-olds can get a driver's license, though usually with restrictions. And while
almost every state requires that a couple be 18 to marry on their own, most states let 16- and 17-
year-olds wed if they have their parents' consent. In New Hampshire, girls as young as 13 can
marry, as long as they have permission from their parents.

"What kind of twisted message do we send when we describe a murderer as a 'mature, responsible
adult' and describe a 14- or 16-year-old student looking to vote as a 'stupid little kid.' This is
hypocritical and wrong," said Koroknay-Palicz, 22.

A federal constitutional amendment lowered the voting age to 18 in 1971. States are allowed to set
their ages lower, but not higher.

In 2002, Cambridge, Mass., city leaders voted to lower the local voting age to 17. But the state
legislature, which has the final say, has not approved the change.

Maine is considering letting 17-year-olds vote in primaries, as long as they turn 18 by the general
election, something several other states already allow. In Florida, advocates hope to have an
initiative on this fall's ballot lowering the voting age to 16. Proposals also have been introduced in
Texas and Hawaii.

California has the most radical proposal: a constitutional amendment that would give 16-year-olds a
half vote and 14-year-olds a quarter vote in state elections beginning in 2006.

Britain is considering lowering its voting age to 16, a proposal that picked up the backing of the
ruling Labor Party. And Canada's chief elections officer in March suggested doing the same thing.

In those nations, as in the United States, the push for a lower voting age is driven by the falling
rates at which 18- to 25-year-olds vote. Governments are desperate to try to bring young people
back into the civic fold, to make them feel they have a stake in their countries.

Since the national voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971, the voting rate among 18- to 24-year-olds
has dropped fairly steadily. In the 2000 election, 42 percent of young adults voted, compared with
70 percent of those older than 25.

This year will see unprecedented efforts to get young adults interested in voting in the November
election. Everyone from professional wrestlers to TV producers to MTV has some kind of youth
voting initiative.

None of the efforts to lower the voting age will be in force in time for this fall's presidential election -
much to the dismay of Caroline DuWors, 16, a junior at Milford High School.

"I've formed my opinions on the candidates and stayed up with their campaigns as much as
possible," Caroline said. "I think a common misconception among adults is that all teenagers would
rather sleep or go shopping than think about politics."
Elections experts are divided.

"I think it's a dumb idea," said Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American

The voting age was set at 18 because that's the age at which people could be drafted and die for
their country. They don't have enough life experience or history and don't know the issues in enough
detail, he said.

"There are other ways to learn politics," he said, such as volunteering on a campaign or working as
a poll volunteer on Election Day.

Kay Stimson, director of the New Millennium Young Voters Project at the National Association of
Secretaries of State, said she was glad lowering the voting age is getting more attention than it has
since 1971.

"Any movement that gets young people involved in the electoral process is definitely a positive
one," she said.

Getting teenagers in the habit of voting will make them lifetime voters, advocates say. And school
provides the perfect place to train future voters, both in civics and the basic logistics of voting. A
Yale University study last year found that students shown how to operate a voting machine were
more than twice as likely to vote as students who weren't shown.

By lowering the voting age to 16, "you might be able to make voting part of a civics education
class," said Mark Lopez, research director at the Center for Information and Research on Civic
Learning and Engagement.

Lowering the voting age might have little effect on the presidential race. Polls have shown young
voters about as split as their elders. If they differ at all, they tend to be more libertarian - more
tolerant of gay marriage, for example, and more supportive of privatizing Social Security.

After all, most teenagers have a leave-me-alone attitude that could be described politically as
libertarian, said James Gimpel, an expert on young voters at the University of Maryland.

Gimpel, who has forecast the possible crash in voter turnout, said he was intrigued with the idea of
lowerinThis is a matter of maturity. age limits are placed on voting because voting is in its small
way participation in the governance of the nation, and it is assumed that below a certain age
people lack the information and reasoning skills needed to make good political decisions. What
that age is a matter for debate: Some places have allowed children as young as 12 to
participate, while others (including the US for a long time) have set the age as high as 21. My
own feeling is that 16 is a bit young, but not unworkable: 16 years olds are vulnerable to peer
pressure (which is bad for a political system), but are more in control of their impulses than
younger children, and often reasonably well-informed about what's happening in the world.
the voting age but not sure of its impact. People who were going to be likely

Discuss: Should children have the right to vote?

The above is a question thats interested me for as long as I can
remember, though I avoided blogging about it until now. See, unlike
many libertarian economist Ayn-Rand types, I dont actually like asking
social or political questions the very asking of which marks you as
eccentric and Aspergerish. Id rather apply myself to proving lower
bounds, popularizing quantum mechanics, or other tasks that are
(somewhat) more respected by the society I depend on for my dinner.
And Id rather pick battles, like evolution or climate change, where truth
and justice have well-connected allies on their side and a non-negligible
chance of winning. For years, Ive been studying the delicate art of
keeping my mouth shut when what I have to say will be deeply
unpopularand despite lapses, Ive actually made a great deal of
progress since (lets say) the age of 14.

There are times, though, when a question strikes such an emotional

chord with me that I break down and ask it in spite of everything. Such
a case was provoked by this story in the New York Times a few weeks
ago (registration required), about a 17-year-old girl who was jailed for
creating a MySpace page.

At worst, Hillary Transue thought she might get a stern lecture when she
appeared before a judge for building a spoof MySpace page mocking the
assistant principal at her high school in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. She was a
stellar student who had never been in trouble, and the page stated
clearly at the bottom that it was just a joke.

Instead, the judge sentenced her to three months at a juvenile

detention center on a charge of harassment.

She was handcuffed and taken away as her stunned parents stood by.

I felt like I had been thrown into some surreal sort of nightmare, said
Hillary, 17, who was sentenced in 2007. All I wanted to know was how
this could be fair and why the judge would do such a thing.
The answers became a bit clearer on Thursday as the judge, Mark A.
Ciavarella Jr., and a colleague, Michael T. Conahan, appeared in federal
court in Scranton, Pa., to plead guilty to wire fraud and income tax fraud
for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two
privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister
company, Western PA Child Care.

The article expresses disapproval about the corruption of the judge and
the severity of the sentence, but seems completely unfazed by
the idea of an American citizen standing before a judge to answer for a
satirical website. And this is actually understandable given the context.
While childrens rights law is a notoriously murky area, it seems fair to
say that childrens individual rights (free speech, due process, etc.) are
generally thin to nonexistent, certainly in the US and probably elsewhere
too. So for example, if Ms. Transue had been punished by
herschool rather than a court for setting up her website, it probably
wouldnt even have been news.

The law strikes me as inconsistent in its attitude toward minors: first it

denies them individual rights, on the ground that theyre not yet capable
of exercising moral judgment. But then it punishes them harshly for all
sorts of offenses (in many casesmore harshly than adults), thereby
presupposing the moral responsibility theyre not yet supposed to have.

Now, if I had political capital to spend, I would notwant to spend it on

childrens rights, just as I wouldnt want to spend it on legalizing
marijuana. In both cases, Im guessing that lions will embrace
vegetarianism and the polynomial hierarchy will collapse to the 23 rd level
before American law changes significantly. But Ive also noticed an
interesting difference between the two issues. In the case of marijuana,
almost every brainful person Ive met (whether liberal or
conservative) has agreed that the current American laws are an
absurdity; that all the power is on one side of the issue while all the
evidence and arguments are on the other side; and that eventually, one
imagines this will all be as obvious to everyone as its obvious today
(say) that contraceptives should be legal. Its just a question of time, of
the regrettable generations-long delay between the inarguable and the
By contrast, when it comes to granting legal rights to children, people
whose intelligence I respect seem compelled to give really
bad arguments for the status quoarguments that (so to speak) a 12-
year-old could demolish. (I know of only two famous intellectuals
whove publicly advocated changing things: the educator John Holt and
the quantum computing pioneer David Deutsch. Anyone know of

For simplicity, lets restrict attention to the question of whether suffrage

should be extended to a large class of people under 18: either by
lowering the voting age (say, to 12 or 14), or better yet (in my view), by
giving any citizen the vote once he or she reaches a certain
age or passes a test of basic civics knowledge analogous to a drivers-ed
or citizenship test. (Just like with the plurality voting system, showing
that the current rule is terrible is the easy part; figuring out the best
among many possible better rules to replace it is the harder and more
interesting problem.)

Ill also restrict attention to the US, even though most of the discussion
applies more broadly. Finally, Ill use the word children to mean
children and teenagers; I like it more than legal terms like minors or
people under 18.

As John Stuart Mill pointed out in The Subjection of Women, its not
clear how you make an affirmative case against a form of
discrimination: pretty much all you can do is stand around, wait for
people to suggest pro-discrimination arguments, and then answer them.

People say: should toddlers have the vote? Should embryos? You have
to draw a line somewhere! But the real question is: granting that one
has to draw a line, granting that any line will be arbitrary and unfair,
cant one at least make it vastly, manifestlyless unfair than the current
line? To give two examples: if you can be imprisoned for a crime,
shouldnt you be able to vote? If you can demonstrate knowledge of
American politics and history well beyond that of the average voter,
shouldnt you be able to vote? (In 1971, the 26thAmendment lowered
the voting age from 21 to 18, on the ground that anyone who can be
drafted into the military should be able to vote. It seems to me that one
can take that same logic much further.)
People say: if you want to grant the vote to sufficiently knowledgeable
children, then shouldnt you also take it away from sufficiently ignorant
adults? Well, its going to be quite a while before the glorious age of the
intellectual meritocracy, when all shall submit willingly to Platos
philosopher-kings. And before that happens, well have probably all
upgraded ourselves to post-Einsteinian superintelligences anyway, by
downloading the requisite applet from the iBrain storeso the question
of what to do with the ignoramuses will be moot. Until that day, Im
content to imagine something thats merely politically impossible (like
giving the vote to anyone over 18 and to all knowledgeable minors),
rather than 2 to the politically impossible power.
(Notice also that slippery-slope arguments get invoked every
time any new step away from medieval morality is on the table: if we
legalize gay marriage, then dont we also need to legalize polygamy, etc.
etc. Again, the fact that any rule we can think of is imperfect, doesnt
imply that some rules we can think of wouldnt be much better than the
current ones.)

People say: if youre going to grant votes to some children and not
others on the basis of a test, isnt that elitist? But why isnt the drivers-
ed test or thecitizenship test given to immigrants similarly elitist?

People say: even supposing they can pass some test, doesnt everyone
know that children are too immature and unwise to be entrusted with
awesome burden of democracy? Ah, and who are the mature, wise
elders, those paragons of Enlightenment rationality, who twice elected
George W. Bush? If minors could vote, wouldnt Bush have almost
certainly lost both timesthereby averting (or at least mitigating) the
global disaster from which were now struggling to recover? Or was that
a fluke: a case of the young disproportionately getting the right answer
by accident, while the older and wiser made one of their rare mistakes?
Or am I being reductive and simplistic? Does our belief in the political
immaturity of the young belong to that special category of truths, the
ones too profound to be confronted by data or experience?

People say: but children only care about the present; they lack
foresight. But isnt it children pressuring their parents to worry about
climate change and the Amazon rainforest, more often than the other
way around? And isnt that just what youd expect, if children formed a
self-interested bloc much like any other; if they grasped (some clearly,
others less so) that theyd eventually run the planet, and if they
consequently cared more rather than less about the distant future? So if
like me and many othersyou see excessive short-term focus as the
central tragedy of politics, then shouldnt you be chomping at the bit to
let more young people vote?

People say: but children will just vote however their parents tell them
to. But to whatever extent this is true, doesnt it undercut the previous
fears, of immature brats voting in Mickey Mouse for president? And if
millions of wives in conservative parts of the country still vote however
their husbands tell them to, is that an argument for denying those wives
the vote? And dont most people of every age simply vote their

People say: but only a tiny minority of precocious, high-IQ children could
possibly care about votingand while you might have a point in their
case, you ignore the 99% of children who only care about the latest
Hannah Montana accessory. But if less than 1% of Americans want to
run for Congress, or file a Freedom of Information Act request, or do
computer security research thats outlawed by the DMCA, does that
make those rights unimportant? At the risk of the usual chargeelitism
doesnt the tiny minority that cares about such things tend to have a
disproportionate impact on everyone else?

Also, suppose that in Victorian England, only a tiny percentage of

women cared about politics rather than the latest in corsets and garden
mazes: should that have carried much weight as an argument against
womens suffrage? What if the denial of rights to a whole class of
people is a reason why many in that class focus on trivialities, rather
than the other way around?

People say: but its obvious that children shouldnt vote, because theyre
not economically self-sufficient. Again, wouldnt it save time to pass
these arguments through the Victorian England / womens suffrage
filter before making them, rather than after?

People say: ah, but theres no comparison between the two cases, since
unlike Victorian women, children will be able to vote once theyre old
enough. Right, and what about the children who die before theyre 18?
Even ignoring those cases, is it obvious that its okay to deny people
their fundamental rights, provided that those people, in turn, will
someday get to deny fundamental rights to others?

People say: at any rate, denying the vote to children doesnt seem to
have any particularly bad consequences. I wish I agreed; the reasons
why I dont are really a topic for another post. Briefly, though, I think
our cultures insistence on treating children as children even after those
children are ready to be treated as adults is

1. weird from the standpoint of anthropology and evolutionary

2. an excellent prescription for turning out adults who still think the way
children are supposed to,
3. a useful tool for cracking down on unwanted precocity of all kinds,
4. a terrific way to make up for the unfortunate encroachments these
past few centuries of justice, civilized behavior, and protections for the
nerdy and weak, by keeping human beings in such a savage environment
for the first years of their lives that by the time theyre let out, the new
Enlightenment nonsense has difficulty gaining a foothold.
(For more on similar themes, see Paul Grahams justly-celebrated
essay Why Nerds Are Unpopular, or my Return to the Beehive.) The
denial of suffrage is just a small part of the storynowhere near the
most important partbut it works as an example.

Finally people say: thats just the way things are. This argumentalso
useful for justifying chattel slavery if you happen to live in 1845is, at
last, a sound one. I agree with it and accept it. Because of this
argument, Ill now admit that this entire post has been nothing more
than an intellectual exercise, a way for me to procrastinate from
answering email. I dont actually believe any of what I wrotenor, for
that matter, do I believe anything. Still, purely out of academic
curiosity, Id be interested to know: are there any other arguments for
the legal status of Hillary Transue, besides its being the way things are?
This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 10th, 2009 at 10:34 am and is filed under Nerd
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this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Friday, 5 July, 2002, 21:50 GMT 22:50 UK

Should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote?

Calls for the voting age to be lowered to 16 are to be considered by the

Electoral Commission.

And John Denham, the home office minister with responsibility for young people, said
any recommendation to cut the voting age from 18 would be considered.

The move comes as a government report shows that many 14 to 20-year-olds believe
MPs to be out-of-touch.

The report also found that 59% of young people have little interest in politics and that
only 31% felt there is a duty to vote.

Should the voting age be lowered? Will it help young people to engage in

This debate is now closed. See below for a selection of your comments.

Quite daft. Far more sensible is to require five years employment before you qualify to
James, England

As most of the political dialogue in this county is conducted at the level of a child and
the most popular newspapers cover politics at the most infantile
level we may as well go for the lowest common denominator. It
can hardly lower the standards of debate. What is more
Tim Binnington, UK important is for
young people's
What is more important is for young people's views to be views to be
represented in
represented in Parliament. This doesn't necessarily mean having
more young people in Parliament or having younger people
voting for those who get into Parliament. Young people want to

Mark, Germany
see MP's fighting for their cause far more often than they have been.
Mark, Germany (British Citizen)

Absolutely not! Put the voting age up to 25 rather than reduce it. If you've seen no life
and never worked or supported yourself you should not be a part of the voting process.
Also it is very disturbing the way the right-wing press are feeding the so-easily-
influenced young today on stupid celebrity stories and are deliberately avoiding proper
news and reporting. In a few years time there will be no real news and no politics as a
consequence of this. What will we be voting for, boy bands or DJs?
Andrew M, UK

I personally think that the age limit should remain the same. Whilst some young
people mature earlier and have developed definitive opinions below this age, one thing
I have learnt by my middle age is that our opinions and thoughts continue to develop
throughout our life and that "maturity" is actually difficult to define. I think 18 is the
right age, an age of independence for many, going to university, starting work etc and
an age where people start to take responsibility for themselves and their future.
Besides teenagers have enough to worry about!
Terry Emerson, London, UK

As a teacher who deals with 16 year olds daily, I have one thing to say about giving
them the vote. NO! NO! NO! It is rare enough to find an 18 year old with sufficient
understanding of the realities of life without planning to give people even younger the
right to take part in decision making.
Philip, England

16 year olds are experienced at making important life decisions I think we have a lot
(e.g. GCSEs, further education etc). They are also considered to learn from young
by the law to be responsible enough to reproduce and raise people - they have
fresh, uncynical
children, not to mention get married. To say that because 16
year olds have no experience of taxation or pensions is an
unfair reason to deny them the right to vote - how many of us
have experience of how to run the NHS, yet we vote in the
government that does. I think we have a lot to learn from
young people - they have fresh, uncynical ideas! DF, UK

Do you really think I trust a group of people who vote for Will Young? About as much
as I trust this government. Political voting is slightly more important than a Pop 'idol'
vote! Ask yourself this, when your walking along your local high street, how many 16
year olds look and act sensible enough to vote?
Craig, Scotland

Of course it is right to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote. They pay taxes, they can
leave school, get married, join the armed forces and claim benefits. Why should they
not be able to help choose the people who set policy on these matters. The argument
that older people know what is best for young people and will vote accordingly was
used by men to deny women the vote in the 1900's. It is as wrong now as it was then.
Alex, UK

No. A mechanism for improved involvement of 16 year olds in

politics is needed, better education, increasing understanding
and interest of the British political system would be a starting It smacks of a
point. Then maybe we could trust 16 year olds with a vote. Only desperate attempt to
a minority of 16 year olds earn sufficient amounts for any major work around voter
Tax decision by the government to affect them, mainly those
who join the services. Opening the vote to those under 18
would encourage too much variation in voter's priorities, and
consequently even more dubious and irrelevant promises from
politicians. It smacks of a desperate attempt to work around Mark, England
voter apathy, instead of dealing with the reasons for voter
apathy, opening the vote to a whole new group of citizens who would of course jump at
the opportunity until the novelty wears off.
Mark, England

I believe that 16 year olds should be allowed to vote. But I think, and this is regardless
of age, no one should be allowed to vote until they can prove they have read the
manifestos of the candidates and therefore can make an informed decision. Otherwise
there seems to be no sense in voting at all. To deny the vote to people who can legally
raise families and work seems to hark back to a bygone age.
Melanie, UK

I work with young people (15/16) as an individual mentor and so get to know them all
quite well. They may lack self-confidence and appear silly when in a group, but they all
show an excellent knowledge of the outside world and the issues that confront us all. I
would have no hesitation giving them the vote, - and I think that they would be much
likely to vote than their elders. All of them have jobs even if its on a Saturday or a
newspaper round, and not quite the 'greenhorns' some people
Anthony (age 53), Reading, UK
It is unjust that 16
year olds must pay
It is unjust that 16 year olds must pay tax when they work, but tax when they work,
cannot vote, that they must pay National Insurance but cannot vote
contributions, but cannot claim any unemployment or housing
benefits. If the government want to continue denying 16 year
olds representation, then they should iron out all the other
inconsistencies and give them back the rights the Conservatives
took away. 16 year olds cannot even claim the same minimum Mark Sydenham,
wage as over 18 year olds for doing the same work!
Mark Sydenham, Scotland
The right to vote should depend on knowledge of the issues. My preference is for
regular tests on the British constitution, economics etc. as a way of gaining eligibility
as a voter. I am sure some 16 year olds are as politically mature as adults so it seems
simply ageist to exclude them. If it makes sense to have a lower age limit, should we
also have an upper age limit?
Paul, England

What is the point when those already entitled to vote usually don't? Young people of 16
don't pay mortgages and rarely have children at school so why should they have a say
in how these things are run? If the government is out of touch with young people
giving the young people the vote won't help. Pensioners are a huge group of voters but
do the government listen to them? Quite.
Wendy, U.K.
It should be raised
Absolutely not, in my mind it should be raised to 21. The to 21.
thought that a 16 year old has enough life experience to make
a valuable contribution to the way this country is run is
Paul J-W, England, UK
Paul J-W, England
Just like 18 year olds, 16 year olds should have the right to not
Derek, UK

The assertion that young people are not interested in politics because they do not vote
is incorrect. Does this presuppose that at 18, young persons become interested in
politics, of course not. There is no desire for the vote amongst this group because they
(we) have grown up in an era of consensus politics, created the media and a two-party
system which results in squabbling over the centre ground. The fact that the average
16 year old will (hopefully) vote for Jade on Friday's Big Brother eviction night instead
of in the poll booths may not spotlight a healthy democracy, but is in fact a direct
consequence of it.
Al M, England

The government (not to mention the electorate in general) allows 16 yr olds to go to

war with the Armed Forces, it allows then to put money into the treasury (through
smoking) so why not let them vote? To those who say that they don't want a pop idol
voted in, grow up, the 16 to 18 vote alone wouldn't be enough
to vote someone in by itself.
Ollie_J, UK
Labour are keen on
this because young
Of course Labour will be keen on this because young people people tend to be
tend to be more left wing. Since the government's main role is more left wing
dishing out tax revenue, only those who pay taxes should be
permitted to vote.
Stuart, UK

Stuart, UK
How can a 16 year old be able to relate to proposed changes in income tax when
they're not earning, to changes in pension schemes when they don't have one, to
changes in child benefits when it's their parents that receive it not them? You'll just
end up with gimmicky manifests containing ideas like reducing VAT on CD's and
computer games. Voting is a serious issue and shouldn't be available to an age group
where the majority have not yet sufficiently matured to be able to competently make
such a key decision.
Alex Banks, UK

So Alex Banks thinks that most 16 year-olds are not mature enough to make decisions
on the big issues? I think not! We ARE the future, so don't you think we should have a
say in how that future is prepared for us? As for the maturity issue, in response to Mr
Banks' comments I asked twenty people around my college, all aged between 16 and
19, about whether they were interested in voting. The result was emphatically in the
affirmative, and (oddly enough) when questioned about the issues they would
champion, there were really strange answers like 'reduction of taxes', 'protection of the
environment', 'modifiications of the NHS', and even 'more emphasis on good
Ross McDonald, England

I've never heard of anything so stupid, do we really want some pop idol being voted in.
Also having only left school do they have a realistic view of the world or is it a way for
the government to grab votes by giving incentives to the youth vote. After saying all
that, I don't think it would make a difference because by the time you reach 25 you
realise that the government does what it wants, lies and cheats, and bows down to
people who nag them most; then they charge you a load of tax
to cover up their incompetence.
Liz, UK
Most younger people
are a lot more
Yes. Younger people have little say in how this country is run grown-up than the
already, so anything that increases political activity should be politicians running
welcomed. We have this crazy situation where 16 year olds can Britain anyway
kill themselves through smoking, get married or risk STD's
through legal sex but can't vote on their own lives. Most
younger people are a lot more grown-up than the politicians
running Britain anyway.
Duncan Thorp,
Duncan Thorp, Scotland

Yes, 16 year olds should have the right to vote. Most people of
this age either work or pay tax of some sort and as such should have their right to
vote. The clarion call of the American revolution was 'no taxation without
representation'. I think the UK's young citizens should adopt the same move. The
current system, whereby 16 year olds can join the armed forces, work in full time
employment and pay tax, but have no entitlement to vote is completely unjust. Their
views are no less informed than most other people's. But they must beware, whatever
way they vote, it's the government that always seem to get in.
Mick Deal, UK

See also:

04 Jul 02 | UK Politics

Voting at 16 under review

04 Jul 02 | UK Politics

Politicians pressed to get funky

05 Feb 02 | UK Politics

Allow voting at 16 - Kennedy

17 Jul 01 | UK Politics

'Voting age should come down'

Internet links:

Electoral Commission

Electoral Reform Society

Home Office

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

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