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Should We Let Children Vote? The Troubling Implications of Standard Reasons for Rejecting a Flawed Idea

Few will agree with Cambridge political scientist David Runciman's proposal to lower the voting age to 6. But standard reasons for rejecting the idea raise serious questions about many adult voters, too.

Prominent British political scientist David Runciman argues that the voting age should be lowered to six, in order to correct what he considers to be a serious age bias in modern democracy, where children's interests are increasingly neglected in favor of those of the elderly, who wield vastly greater political power:

The head of politics at Cambridge University has called for children as young as six to be given the vote in an attempt to tackle the age bias in modern democracy.

Prof David Runciman said the ageing population meant young people were now "massively outnumbered", creating a democratic crisis and an inbuilt bias against governments that plan for the future.

In the latest episode of his podcast, Talking Politics, he said lowering the voting age to 16 was not radical enough to address the problem.

He said: "I would lower the voting age to six, not 16. And I'm serious about that. I would want people who vote to be able to read, so I would exclude reception [age-children].

"What's the worst that could happen? At least it would be exciting, it would make elections more fun. It is never going to happen in a million years but as a way of capturing just how structurally unbalanced our democracies have become, seriously, why not? Why not six-year-olds?

Runciman added: "Old people are currently the coalition that have a huge inbuilt advantage in representative democratic politics.

"Young people are massively outnumbered because the voting age is 18, whereas there isn't a cutoff point at the other end. You don't lose the vote when you get to be 75. You can carry on voting until the day you die and there is no test. You could be frankly demented and still get to vote, which is as it should be. So young people are the losers here...."

He argued that if the voting age was not lowered, politics would be left to "people who aren't going to live into the future and can just care about the present."

It's easy to mock Runciman's idea and dismiss it out of hand. Even he himself admits that it "is never going to happen in a million years." There are a number of flaws in his reasoning. For example, it is far from clear that older voters care less about the future than very young ones. Many of the elderly have children and grandchildren whose future welfare they likely care about a great deal. By contrast, very few children - especially those as young as six - have children of their own. In addition, Runciman's implicit assumption that voters make decisions based on narrow self-interest is largely wrong. For what it's worth, I too reject the idea that we should let six year olds vote. Ditto for most other children.

But when we try to explain why children should not be allowed to vote, it turns out that all the plausible answers have disturbing implications: they all imply that a good many adults also should be excluded from the franchise. Despite some mistakes in his reasoning, Runciman has a point. He is not wrong to suggest that children have a strong interest in electoral outcomes, and that standard democratic theory implies all citizens with such an interest should - at least presumptively - have a say in deciding who controls the government.

Consider the most obvious justification for denying children the vote: that they are too ignorant to make good decisions. This is likely true, at least for the majority of them. But it also true of large numbers of adult voters. Political ignorance is widespread among the latter. A 2017 Pew survey found that only 26 percent of adult Americans can even name the three branches of government. Another recent study finds that only 36 percent could pass the simple civics test immigrants must take to become citizens.

And these examples are just the tip of a vast iceberg of adult voter ignorance. A large percentage of adult voters probably know less about government than a smart grade schooler who remembers what she learned in a basic history or social studies class. Indeed, given the very low likelihood that any one vote will influence electoral outcomes, it is actually rational for most people to devote little time and effort to acquiring political information.

Perhaps the real reason why children should be denied the franchise is not lack of knowledge, but their poor judgment and immaturity. Of course many adults also have poor judgment and lack maturity. Consider the current president of the United States, who is "undisciplined" and "doesn't like to read," and whose own staff often manage him as if they are babysitting an unruly toddler. If children should be denied the vote because they lack judgment and maturity, why not the many adults who lack those same qualities?

Maybe the problem with child-voters is that they don't have the benefit of various adult experiences, such as working at a job, raising a family, paying taxes, or running a business. I am actually skeptical that these are as important for making good voting decisions as knowledge of government and public policy. But if I'm wrong about that, then we have to reckon with the fact that numerous adults also lack these experiences. Conversely a good many children do in fact have some of them, most notably working at jobs, or even - in some cases - helping to run a family business.

Another standard justification for denying children the vote is that they are too easily influenced by adults. Many might just vote whichever way their parents tell them. Of course, the same thing is true of many adults. Their political views are also heavily influenced by friends or family members. Historically, one of the standard justifications for denying women the vote was that they would just follow the dictates of their husbands or fathers.

More recently, Hillary Clinton famously claimed that she lost the 2016 election in large part because many white women voted against her as a result of pressure from their spouses. Some scholars argue that social science evidence supports her claims. Regardless, it's hard to deny that many people's political views and voting decisions are influenced by parents, spouses, and other family members, and that this influence is strong even with many adults.

Finally, it is sometimes argued the disenfranchising children is no big deal, because it is only temporary. They will get the vote as soon as they turn 18 (or whatever the minimum voting age is). But children who were denied the vote in 2016 and this year, are going to be massively affected by the decisions made by the winners of these elections, often in ways that are difficult or impossible to reverse. And, of course, the exclusion of adults who lack necessary political knowledge or don't have some form of relevant life experience might also be temporary. It could be ended as soon as they show they have met minimum levels of political knowledge or obtained the right type of life experience.

With respect to most of these potential criteria for the franchise, children are, on average more likely to fall short than adults. But if statistical aggegates are enough to deny the vote to all children (including those who are exceptions to the pattern), why not to subsets of the adult population that also have an unusually high likelihood of falling short of our standards? Runciman, for example, points out that the elderly have a higher incidence of senile dementia than younger people, which might in turn reduce the average quality of their voting decisions. Data suggest that the poor, on average, have lower levels of political knowledge than more affluent voters. And so on.

Some political theorists argue that the quality of voters' decisions don't matter, or at least not enough to justify denying anyone the franchise. All that is important is that citizens have the right to exercise the franchise freely. They are then entitled to decide as they wish, regardless of whether their choices are well-informed or otherwise reflect good judgment. I disagree. But if such "pure proceduralist" justifications for democracy are valid, then we really have no good reason to deny children the franchise. If quality of decision-making is irrelevant for adult voters, why not children, as well?

The easiest way to reconcile standard justifications for denying the vote to children with the way we treat adult voters is to subject both children and adults to the same standards: before being allowed to vote, all should be required to prove they have a minimum level of political knowledge, judgment and maturity, or whatever other qualities are essential to being a good voter. This idea leads to something like Jason Brennan's theory of "epistocracy" - the "rule of the knowers." Competence, not age, would determine eligibility for the franchise. And that franchise need not be reserved to just a small elite. Depending on what kinds of standards are set, many millions of people would still be able to vote, including some children who are currently barred.

Unfortunately, I doubt that real-world governments can be trusted to either come up with good criteria for an epistocratic franchise, or apply them in an unbiased fashion. That's why I am skeptical of proposals to establish a knowledge test for voters, even though I do not reject all such ideas as a matter of principle. I am open to potentially expanding the franchise by including knowledgeable children. But I oppose the establishment of a universal testing system, which would create a much higher risk of abuse.

At least for a long time time to come, we are likely stuck with a system under which we deny children the vote for reasons that (often rightly) call into question the competence of numerous adult voters. This may be unavoidable. But it should make us more skeptical about the desirability of giving so much power to a political process heavily influenced by public ignorance. And it should lead us to be more open to proposals to limit and decentralize government power, so that more decisions can be made in a framework where people have better incentives to become informed and exercise good judgment.

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  • LiborCon||

    "But children who were denied the vote in 2016 and this year, are going to be massively affected by the decisions made by the winners of these elections, often in ways that are difficult or impossible to reverse."

    Yes, but when today's children reach voting age, they'll happily screw over future generations. That's how democracies work, put off society's problems for those yet unborn to deal with.

  • Lee Moore||

    Also even if we were to extend the vote to newborns, they're still going to be "massively affected" by the decisions made by the winners of elections before they were born. Being "affected by history" is one of those things that are difficult to shake off.

  • MJBinAL||

    I've got it!!!!

    Let's give the vote to all citizens who have on a net basis, paid taxes. No other factors need considered.

    Black, While, Yellow, Gay, Straight, Trans Male, Believe you are a Golden Retriever, 8 years old or 108 years old.
    it does not matter so long as you are a citizen and a net taxpayer.

  • perlchpr||

    I'm in favor of this plan. An 8 year old who is a net taxpayer possibly actually is capable of contemplating the long term implications of his actions.

    Most 8 year olds I've interacted with, if given $100 to feed themselves for a week, would eat $100 worth of candy on day one, and then be sick, and then hungry, for the rest of the week.

    We don't need more of that in the electorate.

  • Lee Moore||

    By 18 though, they've matured enough to switch out candy for beer.

    This is one reason why women are steadier and more sensible than men. Shoes cost more than beer, so sometimes you have to save up for a week or two before you get a new pair.

  • Eddy||

    "But it should make us more skeptical about the desirability of giving so much power to a political process heavily influenced by public ignorance. And it should lead us to be more open to proposals to limit and decentralize government power, so that more decisions can be made in a framework where people have better incentives to become informed and exercise good judgment."

    That part of the post I can totally agree with, but it still doesn't say what (if anything) the voting age should be.

    One argument for a definite voting age is fairly obvious - it's hard for voting registrars to mess with an 18-year cutoff (you can't vote before 18 but you can thereafter). In contrast, our own country's experience shows what can happen if we give registrars the power to deny the franchise based on the registrar's own ideas about a person's political knowledge and maturity.

    Making 18 the magic year is a whole lot less arbitrary than empowering the government (through the registrars) to decide when if ever you're mature enough to vote.

  • Eddy||

    With maturity tests, somehow the registrars would "discover" that members of the preferred party (or race) are all mature, even if the spell "cat" K-A-T-T. Whereas members of the disfavored party (or race) will be classified as immature, even if they can recite the Iliad from memory from beginning to end.

  • Eddy||

    Also, you can rearrange the letters in "David Runciman" to get "avian crud mind" or "acid avid, Mr. Nun."

  • bernard11||

    In Greek.

  • shortviking||

    If anything the voting age should be raised to 25 as
    implied by the constitution.

  • MJBinAL||

    Or 27 years old....since we have determined (ACA aka ObamaCare) that people are children whose medical care is the responsibility of their parents until 26 years of age.

  • ||

    I think the people who fight the wars should have a say if we get into them.

  • RPGuy16||

    I don't see why. We make children go to school but that doesn't mean they should get to vote on it.

  • Eddy||

    "What's the worst that could happen? At least it would be exciting..."

    Translation: Hold my beer and watch this.

  • KHP54||

    Exciting? Yeah, I hear the French revolution had its share of thrills too.

  • Lee Moore||

    I'm against any age restriction on voting. I don't think it should matter how old you are. However I do think it is important that you should be able to demonstrate a track record of loyalty to the Republic and to your fellow citizens. A track record of not committing serious crimes against your fellow citizens, and not owing allegiance to a foreign sovereign. A vote is not just a personal right, to be exercised as you please as if it was $300 in your pocket. It also carries a moral responsibility - to exercise your small share of power over your fellow citizens responsibly, in what you perceive to be the interests of your fellow citizens as well as youself.

    So after, say, 21 years of (serious) felony-free, exclusive, citizenship of the United States*, you should get to vote.

    * or, if you're looking for a vote somewhere else, citizenship of the somewhere else in question.

  • ||

    No women with illegitimate children should be allowed to vote either.

  • DjDiverDan||

    Should we also disqualify those who fathered the illegitimate children? Should we also disqualify them from public office? What if the single mother is self-supporting, well-off financially, and had a child out of wedlock simply because she chose not to marry the father of her child? What about fathers of illegitimate children who earn millions playing professional sports and financially support every single child they have fathered? Or fathers who would have willingly married the woman they impregnated, but their proposals of marriage were rejected?

    ARWP, you seem to constantly cheerlead for highly simplistic solutions to complex problems, ignoring or perhaps completely missing very important nuance. Maybe YOU shouldn't be permitted to vote.

  • I Callahan||

    Although I don't agree wholly with ARWP's prescription, I see where it comes from. I also believe that things are not as complicated as we humans think they are. Sometimes, simple answers are the way to go.

    That said - unless you're a tax paying citizen, you ought not be able to vote. You shouldn't be able to vote other people's money out of their pockets and into yours. This simple prescription would solve 90% of the problems this country has.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Only net taxpaying citizens, perhaps. With current age restrictions intact, and with veterans benefits, medicare, and social security retirement benefits excluded from the formula for determining net taxpayer status. In other words, if you receive more in government aid or benefits (excluding specified exceptions) than you pay in taxes, including EIC, welfare, medicaid, food stamps, childcare subsidies, expenses for criminal incarceration, etc.--you don't vote.

    This all sounds good, although I'm sure the Democrats (and not a few Republicans) might mildly and politely disagree. However, a reform of this magnitude would require a constitutional amendment, no? That isn't going to happen. The "takers" among us-- and the politicians who buy their votes with largesse from the public treasury--have enough numbers to torpedo any such initiative. They will keep right on plundering the "makers" until the debt bomb explodes. Then? Who knows?

  • ||

    And that's just the problem. Once you improperly give people the vote who shouldn't have it, the only way to take it away is following a violent civil war. Because the undeserving people will never vote their own voting rights away.

  • Rock Lobster||

    "Once you improperly give people the vote who shouldn't have it, the only way to take it away is following a violent civil war."

    Well, there's a hell of an idea. On second thought, let's not do that.

    "Because the undeserving people will never vote their own voting rights away."

    Deserve's got nothing to do with it. The Constitution does. And I'll tell you the same thing I tell progressives who want to do away with the Second Amendment: There is a process for amending the Constitution. It is difficult for a reason.

  • ||

    The Constitution does not grant a right to vote. It only grants a right not to have the right to vote abridged for certain reasons.

  • mpercy||

    Indeed. And a specific example is one I pull out from time to time. The Constitution says, regarding Presidential electors, "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors..."

    Let's image that California legislature some years ago had determined that the the method for choosing California Electors would be "appointed by the Governor". There would be no election for President in California. We can reasonably assume that in 2016 that Gov. Brown would have appointed all 55 of his state's Electors from Democrats to vote for Hillary Clinton, so she would have had exactly as many Electors as she actually did in 2016, but would have received 8.7 million fewer "popular votes" (Trump would have received 4.4 million fewer). A net reduction in "popular vote" lead of 4.3M votes. Sec. Clinton won the "popular vote" by 3M votes, but would not have had California appointed electors instead of voting.

  • MJBinAL||

    Hmm, I am with you are veterans benefits, but not with you on medicare and social security. The same problem, voting benefits for you and someone elses expense. At least the veteran's benefits are arguably because the government was his employer, making those earned benefits.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Well, this is all a hypothetical exercise, anyway, but an argument could be effectively made that taxpayers who have paid SS and medicare taxes over an entire career of productive work should receive those benefits without penalty--and losing one's franchise is a penalty--when they retire and start drawing on those benefits.

    That being said, whether both SS and medicare should be restructured or completely done away with is an entirely different discussion and one worth having (critically important, in fact), but screwing over people who have paid into a system they did not vote into existence and having no choice regarding participation is probably not the best way to proceed.

  • perlchpr||

    Except, are people receiving SS net payers or takers?

    The SS contribution was a lot lower earlier in history, and wages were a lot lower too. So Grampa who paid 1% of his $3 an hour into SS and is now pulling in benefits equivalent to the 10% on $30 an hour I'm paying seems more like a taker than a payer.

    And if anyone has had a better opportunity to change the things that led to the inflation that made it so, it was him, not me.

  • Lee Moore||

    Exactly, I forget the exact numbers but on an actuarial basis, the vast majority of people who think they've paid for, or are paying for, their social secutity benefits are mistaken. By a factor or two or three. Which is why the social security fund is deeply in the red.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Only net taxpaying citizens, perhaps. With current age restrictions intact, and with veterans benefits, medicare, and social security retirement benefits excluded from the formula for determining net taxpayer status. In other words, if you receive more in government aid or benefits (excluding specified exceptions) than you pay in taxes, including EIC, welfare, medicaid, food stamps, childcare subsidies, expenses for criminal incarceration, etc.--you don't vote.

    This all sounds good, although I'm sure the Democrats (and not a few Republicans) might mildly and politely disagree. However, a reform of this magnitude would require a constitutional amendment, no? That isn't going to happen. The "takers" among us-- and the politicians who buy their votes with largesse from the public treasury--have enough numbers to torpedo any such initiative. They will keep right on plundering the "makers" until the debt bomb explodes. Then? Who knows?

  • Lee Moore||

    Should we also disqualify those who fathered the illegitimate children?

    Leaving disqualification aside, let's not leap to the conclusion that each parent bears equal responsibility for the arrival of an illegitimate (or unwanted) child. Assuming each is equally responsible for the copulation, then it's not at all obvious that the responsibility for the pregnancy, and in due course the infant, is equally shared.

    One parent is likely to know more than the other about the chances of the copulation leading to pregnancy, and that same parent now has a legal right to prevent a pregnancy turning into an infant.

    Moreover, in the olden days before Roe v Wade, basic biology left one parent, er, holding the baby. Assigning equal responsibility for the third party consequences, still leaves us to assign responsibility for each party's own consequences. It's usual to treat each party to a voluntary transaction as responsible for the consequences to himself (or herself.) The bad consequences for unmarried Mom in having an illegitimate child belong to her, not to Dad.

  • ||

    Exactly.

  • MJBinAL||

    There is a point here. We have all been informed that it is the mother's decision to keep or abort the child. Hence, the mother holds most of the authority in deciding if the child will be born, and thus bears most of the responsibility for the child being born.

    If you don't like this calculus, then may we need to rediscuss why the "father" has no decision making authority. Responsibility and Authority should be aligned.

  • ||

    The difference is that the men who fathered them aren't given the "choice." Women are. So they ultimately bear the blame. And it's not about financial support (although that's a big one). It's about needing one mother and one father. Not one mother and a grandmother, and not two lesbian "mothers" or homosexual "fathers."

  • Lee Moore||

    This idea leads to something like Jason Brennan's theory of "epistocracy" - the "rule of the knowers."

    We are all knowers. We just know different stuff. The problem is in working out which facts to select as relevant. Somin presumably knows a lot about US law. Probably less about how best to interfere with a pass reception without getting called. And nothing about what sort of tracks reveal the passage of a kudu. In fact Somin probably knows a lot about some areas of law, and very little about other areas. So the policy boffin who knows all about the water conservation in California probably knows nothing about Chinese intellectual property theft.

    So when it comes to broad political questions, 100% of us are relying, 99.9% of the time, not on our own knowledge, but on authority - our judgment of who sounds more convincing to us, including the question of trust. Even the dumbest person can have a legitimate view on who he trusts. And even a smart person can be extraordinarily gullible......

  • Lee Moore||

    Perhaps the real reason why children should be denied the franchise is not lack of knowledge, but their poor judgment and immaturity. Of course many adults also have poor judgment and lack maturity. Consider the current president of the United States, who is "undisciplined" and "doesn't like to read" and whose own staff often manage him as if they are babysitting an unruly toddler.

    Trump created and ran a successful property empire, became a successful TV star and got himself nominated as a presidential candidate in the teeth of opposition from all the "knowers" in his party, and then got himself elected President against all the "knowers" in the other party too. If he could do this with poor judgement, immaturity, ill discipline, lack of reading, and the behavior of an unruly toddler – perhaps that indicates that the "knowers" are selecting the wrong facts as relevant. And that in a nutshell is why "epistocracy" is a crock. Most of life is not about what you know, it's also about what you suspect, or guess, what you want, what you hope, what you feel. Not least because what you suspect, what you guess, what you want, what you hope and what you feel are fundamental to what part of the infinity of reality you select as relevant.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Trump inherited his wealth before establishing a record of bankruptcies, stiffed creditors, and sketchy conduct, you half-educated, intolerant yahoo.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    He inherited wealth from his father's business, which he ran for his father for about a decade before inheriting. That part is a bit inconvenient to the narrative, so it keeps getting dropped.

    And he's run a lot of businesses, most of them have not gone bankrupt. Look up the statistics for the survival rate of startup businesses; Trump beat the average by a fair margin.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Watching downscale backwater yahoos who claim to be interested in "traditional values" strenuously attempt to defend a vainglorious, vulgar, boorish, immoral silver-spooner has been an interesting endeavor.

  • I Callahan||

    God, you're such an asshole.

  • Joe_dallas||

    "God, you're such an asshole."

    Calling that particular commentator an "asshole" is giving a bad name to assholes.

    It would be nice if that particular person wasnt such an intolerant biased, jerk, Yet because he believes he is enlightened, he fails to see his intolerance and bigotry.

  • Hank Ferrous||

    Artie is a poster child for progressive thought - biased, intolerant, and certain of its superiority.

  • MJBinAL||

    Oh look, they let the Rev, use the computers in the psycho ward again. Just be patient, they will take him back to his room in a little while.

  • DjDiverDan||

    ". . . you half-educated, intolerant yahoo."

    POT CALLING KETTLE BLACK.

  • Lee Moore||

    I am not a kettle.

  • Joe_dallas||

    he was referring to the Rev K

  • Lee Moore||

    he was referring to the Rev K

    I think the Rev K was cast in the role of pot.

  • Rock Lobster||

    The fact that you deny your kettleness and the associated privileges of kettlehood, proves you to be a kettle.

    It's settled social science.

  • Rock Lobster||

    The fact that you deny your kettleness and the associated privileges of kettlehood, proves you to be a kettle.

    It's settled social science.

  • RoyMo||

    There is this obscure concept called an age of majority, it was defined differently in different cultures, but it was, and is still, set at the point where a child became responsible for themselves. In the US this age is 18, which amazingly and by complete coincidence is the same age. We currently have juvenile emancipation where children younger than the age of majority can become emancipated by a court. Now maybe it is this status of emancipation that should determine if one could vote?

  • Kazinski||

    Given a choice between everyone down to 6 year olds voting or just propertied men over 21 then I'll go with the latter. At least that has a pretty good track record of accomplishments even if it's not always pretty.

  • ||

    Yes, but property should be limited to single family homes and farms. Not Upper West Side co-ops or Georgetown condos.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    "But when we try to explain why children should not be allowed to vote, it turns out that all the plausible answers have disturbing implications: they all imply that a good many adults also should be excluded from the franchise."

    Perhaps you're simply being irrational to be disturbed by this implication?

    Look, children are, generally speaking, ignorant, foolish, and easily swayed. We all know this, having been children at one time. Adults are, as a statistical generalization, less ignorant, less foolish, and less easily swayed.

    Handing the franchise to children still in K-12? It would be simpler to just give school teachers proxies to vote on behalf of their students. You can be sure Runciman would be less enthusiastic about the idea if most school teachers weren't Democrats.

    Sure, that adults are better informed and less foolish is just a generalization, but it's dangerous to let the government make fine grained decisions about who gets to vote, without some adversary process like a jury trial. You put the government in charge of who selects the people who run the government, and, surprise! They pick people who will pick them. (The same principle applies to voir dire, if you ask me. The jury should just be the hand that random chance dealt, not manipulated.)

    So, just pick an age line, and stick with it. Maybe make an exception for emancipated minors who are supporting themselves.

  • Gasman||

    Maybe ilya gave no thought to the stock photo, or maybe he did.
    No white males to be seen among his new electorate. That should fuel the extreme right.

  • Longtobefree||

    Regardless of age, no one should be able to vote who has not paid at least $10,000.00 in payroll taxes, (and/or self-employment payroll taxes). Until you have contributed, you cannot govern. Yes, that means an inheritance baby cannot vote without getting an actual job and contributing.

  • ||

    I like the idea, but it's very easy to game. If you have a ton of passive income, simply create an LLC and pay yourself $40k a year in salary as an "employeee."

  • Longtobefree||

    Well, no easier than the current system - - - -
    At least they have to do more than get a driver's license.

  • Seamus||

    Does David Runciman also want to lower the age at which children can make binding contracts, marry, have sex, join the armed forces, and be executed for their capital crimes? Because it makes little sense to empower them to make decisions, through their elected representatives, that control the lives of their fellow citizens unless they're first empowered to run their own lives.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    No, he wants as many voters as possible who have no rights to speak of, and who spend hours every day in government run indoctrination camps.

    Because the camps are run by his own party members, and people who don't get to exercise rights won't mind if they're taken away.

  • Voize of Reazon||

    the camps are run by his own party members

    Brett, which party do you think Runciman belongs to? Tory? Labour? Scottish National? Do they all run indoctrination camps, or only some of them? I'm not that current on UK politics.

  • MJBinAL||

    In this case, he means public schools as the camps and the dominant local progressive party.

  • Sewblon||

    There is scholarship that suggests that people don't vote based on policy preferences, but on social identities. So actual public policy knowledge doesn't matter, See Democracy for Realists. So there is no good reason why children shouldn't get the vote if this is true.

  • Krayt||

    On the other hand, pushes to lower the vote to 18 were pushed by Democrats and opposed by Republicans because they (supposedly) tend to vote Democratic.

    The push to admit Puerto Rico as a state are similarly affected because it is seen as a free two more Democratic senators.

    Proposals to split California are opposite side because it is seen as a benefit to Republicans.

    So, yes, you are 100% correct. It is all identity politics hiding behind the facade sophistry of concern. It is no different here.

    Follw the power, and therefore the money. Who actually benefits? These are the magic glasses Hot Rod wore.

  • bernard11||

    Krayt,

    From page 30 of the GOP 2016 platform.

    We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union
    as a fully sovereign state.

  • ||

    You're right, but that is merely an argument for contracting the adult franchise. Allowing anyone who is 18 with a pulse to vote is idiotic. It's absurd and outrageous that a 19 year old welfare queen with 4 kids gets the same vote as a successful businessman or visionary.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    For example, it is far from clear that older voters care less about the future than very young ones

    For voters 40 and older, a moment's reflection should make it clear. Ask yourself what you know about the political experiences of people aged 60. Then ask the same question, or any question at all, about the experiences of people aged 20. Most will discover a sketchy understanding of the latter, and detailed insight into the former.

    Close attention to the affairs of those older than we are is a lifelong necessity. For a very long period in life, a period stretching well into adulthood, people older than we are matter materially more to us than younger people do. Even the experience of having children of one's own doesn't much adjust the imbalance. And those children have their attention focused in the same direction—upward, toward people older than they are, from whom they expect to learn, by whom they expect to be hired, and from whom they hope to receive recognition, honors, and emoluments.

    That creates a pressing need for detailed understanding of those older, and, during most normal experience, little need to understand those younger. That is pervasively reflected in politics, and it is a perpetual source of frustration for people in their early voting years. It goes far to explain why so few among those aged less than 30 even vote. Among choices put before them by their elders, younger voters find little to engage their interest.

  • Armchair Lawyer||

    There's actually a better answer than "political knowledge" for why children shouldn't vote.

    That answer is, responsibility for one's actions. As adult citizens, we ultimately bear the responsibility for how we vote and the decisions that those we vote for make. If we vote for a "warmonger" politician, there is a real risk that we will be called on to fight for that war, personally. Most laws and regulations (there are exceptions) apply fully to adults, and less than fully to children.

    Children do not have that responsibility. They are considered children by society. Making choices, without bearing responsibility for those choices, isn't quite right.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    If we vote for a "warmonger" politician, there is a real risk that we will be called on to fight for that war, personally.


    America has changed since the last time you were here.
  • JonFrum||

    Another refusal to be an adult. It's not just helicopter parents who refuse to grow up. Children are children - stop fucking with them and let them be children.

  • BaronGouldianFinch||

    I think Mr Somin is confusing two types of maturity here. There's the biological maturity - has this organism reached adulthood in a physiological sense? And there's the psychological aspect of maturity, responding to the environment in the appropriate manner. The latter can be much more difficult to agree on, but I think the science is quite clear that children's brains are not the same as adults. They can't process concepts the same way. Nor can many teenagers.

    It seems best to pick a hard cutoff date - 18 or 21 for example - around the point at which the majority of humans have reached physical maturity to avoid endless arguments over specific examples (it's the same reason "she was a very mature 14 year old" is NOT going to help if a person are charged with statutory rape).

    Is it the absolute best approach? Probably not. But it's probably the best approach that can be applied given current technology and society? Undoubtedly.

  • HillBillySophist||

    "Line drawing is difficult, therefore we shouldn't draw them," is an untenable position.

  • Allutz||

    Indeed, but really what I drew from this post is that line drawing based on age IS untenable and unjustifiable. On the other hand, I find a literacy test, and a math test increasingly justifiable.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    Here are some ideas:

    Everyone can vote, but guardians vote for their wards. So parents vote for their children, children vote for their senile parents.

    Everyone can vote anywhere they want -- tourists too. Use indelible ink to prevent multiple votes.

    Add a third Congressional chamber, where tax payers sign up with representatives who proxy their tax dollars.

  • ||

    One of the root causes of voter ignorance is that schools have stopped teaching basic civics. If not a broad knowledge test per se, how about a minimal requirement to take and pass a basic civics course? The course wouldn't deal with policy issues but very simply on the structure of federal, state and local governments as they exist. Courses could be incorporated into high school curricula or offered on-line free of charge. States could opt out because the course would be available on-line but registration to vote in a Federal election requires certification that the voter has taken the course. The content of the course would be determined by a bi-partisan (or multi-partisan) commission to minimize political bias.

  • ThePublius||

    First, screw you, Ilya, for the gratuitous slam of Trump.

    Second, as they say, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So it is with you and voter ignorance.

    The true problem with letting children vote is that they are much more influenced, controlled, manipulated by their teachers than their parents, and the schools, from pre-school through graduate school, are dominated by the progressive left. Letting 6 through 18 year olds vote would result in a one-party, socialist-democratic government, likely leading to totalitarianism. No thanks.

    How could you miss this so obvious issue, scholar that you are?

  • I Callahan||

    First, screw you, Ilya, for the gratuitous slam of Trump

    That seems to be his theme lately. If one were a bit conspiratorial, one might think an article like this was in service to that anti-Trump thinking.

  • David Nieporent||

    First, screw you, Ilya, for the gratuitous slam of Trump.

    Slams of Trump are never gratuitous.

  • jdgalt1||

    It seems to me there is already one pretty good, and mostly standardized, test of adult-level knowledge that most people take: high school graduation (or for those who don't graduate, the high-school equivalency exam). At least in my state, people who achieve either milestone become exempt from further compulsory school attendance.

    So let's make that the definition of adulthood. The smart kid who manages to finish high school (or pass the exam) at 14 is, in my view, more of a real adult than the dropout who is 19 but can't pass it. So let the smart one have all the freedoms adulthood carries with it -- not only the vote, but the freedom to work a normal job, drive, marry, smoke, drink, have sex, and so on. While the dropout can stay a juvenile until he figures things out.

  • ||

    Problem with that is that test will be disproportionately failed by blacks and mestizos, so it'll be called a racist system.

  • ThePublius||

    "The smart kid who manages to finish high school (or pass the exam) at 14 is, in my view, more of a real adult than the dropout who is 19 but can't pass it. "

    That's a pretty shallow and juvenile understanding of the world. My uncle dropped out of high school at 14 to support his family - mother and siblings - when his father died. His older brothers contributed nothing, and went on to college. He went on to serve in WWII, in all major campaigns of the European theater, starting in North Africa, through the Italian peninsula, D-Day, and Battle of the Bulge. Who's more of an adult. And he shouldn't vote, drive, drink, smoke, marry, etc.? Jeez!

  • ||

    Did you not read his "or pass the exam" part?

  • ThePublius||

    The "pass the exam" part wasn't central to his comment. "Managing to finish high school," was, the implication being that this person is more intelligent and mature and responsible than one who drops out, regardless of the reason.

    And, what exam, may I ask, are we talking about here? The GED didn't exist until 1943, and was established to allow veterans who had left school to serve in WWII. Does that mean the kid who finished HS was more qualified to vote than the returning veteran who hadn't 'managed' to take the test yet?

  • perlchpr||

    You're quibbling with the fine details, not the general idea.

  • Jerry B.||

    "...all should be required to prove they have a minimum level of political knowledge, judgment and maturity, or whatever other qualities are essential to being a good voter."

    And, of course, Prof. Somin gets to design the test.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    Sayeth Prof. Somin:

    Unfortunately, I doubt that real-world governments can be trusted to either come up with good criteria for an epistocratic franchise, or apply them in an unbiased fashion. That's why I am skeptical of proposals to establish a knowledge test for voters, even though I do not reject all such ideas as a matter of principle.

    Go troll somewhere else, where they don't use such big words.

  • Jerry B.||

    But, boy, does he push the idea that most voters are too politically dumb to vote properly (whatever that is). Almost every one of his articles recently is on this subject. If only he'd propose a solution.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Agreed.

  • Allutz||

    Do you prefer the poll tax or a culling?

  • David Nieporent||

    You confuse ignorance and intelligence. If you read his articles, you'd understand that he argues that political ignorance is actually rational ignorance.

  • TangoDelta||

    Extended to its logical conclusion, why stop at voting? If we're going to say that one arbitrary limit is arbitrary and unjust then wouldn't that apply to all arbitrary limits? Let the kids drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, drive cars (as long as they can reach the pedals), eat ice cream with ketchup on top if they like for every meal, etc. At some point it gets silly.

    Perhaps make it that voting starts two years after you start paying income taxes or when one is no longer be claimed as a dependent on another person's income taxes. What about an IQ test or maybe solve some puzzle faster than a monkey. It is now and always will be some arbitrary test so what difference does it matter what that test is as long as it is universally applied?

  • ThePublius||

    Lower the age of consent while you're at it.

  • MJBinAL||

    Yes,
    and the age to enter contracts.
    and the age to work
    and the age of criminal culpability
    and the age to enter the military
    and operate a motor vehicle

    Either you are an adult, or you are not an adult

  • Abdul Abulbul Amir||

    Amen to that. Add to that list the age to buy tobacco, the age to buy alcohol, the age to consent to sex, and the age to buy a firearm.

  • Curly4||

    If a child is old enough to vote at the age of six they are old enough to preform all other functions of an adult. If a six year old person is not old enough to assume the responsibility of an adult then they are not old enough to vote. If six year olds vote they are making decisions that will not only effect their lives but lives of everybody within the voting district they are voting in. Most voters at the age of six would vote the way their parent tells them to or some other authority figure such as a teacher.Then giving these 6 year old the vote would be multiplying the vote of he parents or other authority figure which would thus be creating voters with greater vote power.

  • Abdul Abulbul Amir||

    Many a six year old would have their absentee ballot filled out by parents.

  • Longtobefree||

    Go with Starship Troopers - only veterans vote.

  • ravenshrike||

    Or there's, you know, science. Which means around 25 since that's when the brain stops maturing.

  • DRM||

    Obviously, not everybody matures at the same time or reaches the same level of maturity. Just as obviously, there's a reason why Runciman is not suggesting that six-year-olds also be allowed to marry, sign binding contracts, star in pornographic films, join the military, serve on juries, smoke cigarettes, drive automobiles, or be tried as adults for crimes.

    One can only seriously consider extending the franchise to six-year-olds if one fundamentally does not believe the exercise of the franchise to be important. But if the exercise of the franchise isn't important, then there is no reason to extend it.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    A 2017 Pew survey found that only 26 percent of adult Americans can even name the three branches of government.

    26 percent of poll respondents couldn't or wouldn't answer that civics chestnut. But it would be interesting to know what kind of place the United States of America would be today if only those who could pass a civics test were empowered to choose from the pool of comers who would lead us.

  • ThePublius||

    I'm going to go with Ocasio-Cortez on this, since she's a newly elected representative, and would know, right?

    "If we work our butts off to make sure that we take back all three chambers of Congress, uh, rather, all three chambers of government — the presidency, the Senate and the House — in 2020," Ocasio-Cortez said. "We can't start working in 2020."

    So, the answer is the presidency, the Senate, and the House.

  • MJBinAL||

    And this is obviously what you get with a degree from Boston University. Gonna run right out and recruit some Boston University graduates to work for me.

    Yea...... in a pig's eye.

  • Naaman Brown||

    Now you're just joined *TWO* fallen GOP Vice Pres candidates going after her with grandpa emails from the '08 election they lost, yeah, you're just like Sarah Palin and Joe Lieberman, those loser GOP Vice Pres candidates she named in Twitter, she won, so there. Pfffft.

    Jessica Kwing, "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Ridicules Sarah Palin For Mocking Her Civics, Says Insults Are Like 'Grandpa Emails' From 2008", Newsweek, 20 Nov 2018.

    Three chambers of Congress, uh government, whatever, because living constitution,

  • Hank Ferrous||

    You're a dolt; she still displayed a complete ignorance of the area in which she likes to profess to know more than those old GOP 'losers.' If she weren't so insufferablely self-righteous,.and lacking in humility , all coupled w/ staggering ignorance bordering on stupidity, like Trump, most folks wouldnx't bat an eye. Except, not like w/ Trump, overall, the righties aren't vindictive small-minded, immature dipshits. Taking cheap shots at her is little different from taking them at Trump, she opens her mouth, or types, and the stupid rolls out.

  • PeteRR||

    So, only male property owners then...

  • bernard11||

    This is a foolish post.

    The arguments it makes completely neglect any notion of the frequency of problems.

    Let's see:

    Consider the most obvious justification for denying children the vote: that they are too ignorant to make good decisions. This is likely true, at least for the majority of them. But it also true of large numbers of adult voters.

    Yes, but there is a difference. Children are almost uniformly too ignorant to make sensible political decisions. Some adults are also too ignorant, but by no means all. So how do you propose to distinguish?

    Perhaps the real reason why children should be denied the franchise is not lack of knowledge, but their poor judgment and immaturity. Of course many adults also have poor judgment and lack maturity.

    Again, it is a question of frequency. To argue that "some of group X and some of group Y have characteristic A" and therefore the two groups should be treated the same, is silly, if the frequency of A differs drastically between the two groups.

    Another standard justification for denying children the vote is that they are too easily influenced by adults.

    The third occurrence of the same mistake.

    Oh, and can we be done with Brennan and his "epistocracy?"

  • JoeBlow123||

    "Oh, and can we be done with Brennan and his "epistocracy?""

    This is a fantastically ridiculous idea on its face. Of course an intellectual would think it is a good idea (apparently with no self reflection how dumb it is). One could speculate what a farmer or military man or religious man or wealthy man or social justice warrior would make the criteria for voting.

  • DRM||

    To argue that "some of group X and some of group Y have characteristic A" and therefore the two groups should be treated the same, is silly, if the frequency of A differs drastically between the two groups.

    Are you actually suggesting there can be biologically-based differences in characteristics between groups?

  • Jimmy the Dane||

    Maybe the Founding Fathers had some wisdom that we forgot about over the centuries. That is perhaps voting should just be restricted to white property owners. I think that is what Somin is trying to get to just uses a lot more words.

  • AmosArch||

    I might not be quite as opposed to children voting provided they can pass a meaningful intelligence and means test that should be implemented universally. But if we're going to treat children like adults we should be willing to do it for real and all the implications that go with it. Equal rights and responsibilities and all that.

    Incidentally I remember hearing that early Bolsheviks tried some experiments along these lines giving children leadership positions and say. If someone can pull up some corroborating links about this I'd appreciate it. Heard it didn't end up going too well.

  • Jimmy the Dane||

    The reason why children are just that, children, is because history, nature, and now science has taught us that the human brain is not fully developed until around the mid 20's (slightly earlier for women). Except for extremely intelligent children they have little sense of fairness, justice, equity, liberty, tolerance, moderation, and freedom. That is why groups of children are usually operated like a small feudal system.

    Ask any teacher or educator and they will confirm this. The "ruling" class kids are usually cruel to the "common" class kids and their cruelty knows very few boundaries. Hence why "anti-bullying" is now all the rage.

    When I think back on my personal life there was definitely a big difference between my early 20's and late 20's with a big change happening around the age of 24 and 25. Makes sense given current science.

  • AmosArch||

    Oh I don't really support infants and children voting since among other things it'd probably help progs. I just laid out ways to actually make it fair.

  • Allutz||

    As opposed to "ruling class adults" like Hillary Clinton and Paul Ryan who are so nice to "common class" adults that oppose them.

    HAHAHA

  • Joe Sparco||

    This question is not interesting because the answer is obvious. We are citizens of a republic. A republic only works when its citizens trust each other to act in the group's best interest. Children lack the valuable context of history, and take the present state of affairs for granted. With age comes experience, and that experience is necessary to make a beneficial contribution to our national discussion.

    So we draw an arbitrary line at age 18 (or 21), and use it as a proxy for maturity. Like all fixed rules, it is both over- and under-inclusive by design. It works most of the time, and that's good enough.

    I recall the words of our friend and former President Theodore Roosevelt at the Sorbonne:

    "A democratic republic such as ours - an effort to realize its full sense government by, of, and for the people - represents the most gigantic of all possible social experiments, the one fraught with great responsibilities alike for good and evil. The success or republics like yours and like ours means the glory, and our failure of despair, of mankind; and for you and for us the question of the quality of the individual citizen is supreme. "

  • Gasman||

    Last time a group of young non-enfranchised complained they got the 26 amendment.
    Their protest was that if they were old enough to go to war then they were old enough to vote. So instead of raising the draft age, the voting age was lowered, and they were allowed to vote absentee from Vietnam. And now they still don't bother to vote in any meaningful numbers.

  • Eddy||

    Studies show that 18-20 year olds who died in Vietnam are more likely to vote in Chicago than living 18-20 year olds.

  • ReaderY||

    The truly troubling thing about this debate is that both sides take for granted that ordinary people think only of their narrow self-interest, so that adults cannot be counted on to consider even the interests of he next generation when they conflict with their own.

    This is the classic argument for monarchy, or at least aristocracy. All ordinary people, the argument goes, are simply incapable of comprehending or making reasoned decisions about the future of their society. If they can gain at the expense of their society's future, they will. Only monarchs, people of such vast wealth and such personal attachment with their society that hey can associate its future with their own, are capable of making such a decisions. If we want our society to have a future, we to place all such decisions in their hands.

    Perhaps this argument is right. If so, lowering the voting age to six won't solve the problem. Only abolishing voting entirely will solve the problem. If the people can't be trusted to think wisely about their own species' future, if the elderly can simply be assumed to give children the shaft, democracy is simply the wrong thing for a society that doesn't want to commit suicide to be doing.

    If that's the case, let the people who think that way admit it and let's hear their arguments for restoring monarchy.

  • Liberty Lover||

    No one would take advantage of kids voting. I mean here in Wisconsin they got rid of the minimum hunting age and we now have infants shooting deer with high power rifles.

    Children do not even know what is in their best interest, that is why they have parents.

  • GryFalcon||

    I've known supposed "children" who slept alone in slide tubes in the park. They knew they had an option to go to CPS, and they refused because it meant trading liberty for a roof over their heads. Those are very adult decisions to make as a child. One child I know raised her siblings and protected them from their mentally ill, meth-addicted mother. At one point, her mother had a mental health crisis and subjected her to extreme emotional abuse. The "child" fled home. She had safe places to stay, but the law required that she be returned to her parents. She was 1 month too young. She had to quit her job for that month, because her parent had so much power over her life that she could not reliably escape from home to get to work. Her mother stole her first pay card. I know kids who were refused medical care (my own child included) because they did not have adult permission. These laws need to be changed.

    There is one single thing that we could do that would radically reform CPS. Make the assistance that CPS provides to kids be voluntary, at least for teens. If kids could refuse the services of CPS, CPS would have to justify their existence to the kids they purport to "help". It would transform CPS overnight. CPS would arrive bearing gifts, not guns, and the world would be a better place. Long live Justina Pelletier and Isaiah Rider, and rest in peace Maryanne Godboldo.

    Since kids have to suffer our decisions, they should have a say in them.

  • Bored Dad Is Bored||

    Professor,

    I think you missed the strongest justification for denying minors the right to vote (and one that does not as easily also apply to adults): a minor's parents/guardians are entrusted with making decisions for that child. We do this for much more personally impactful areas of a child's life like food, shelter, education, etc. Part of this relationship is weighing their current/future needs during voting. Sure, parents may get it wrong on the voting, but they often get it wrong on the other stuff as well. So, when I vote - in theory - I am casting a vote for both myself and my children.

  • RPGuy16||

    I'm not even allowed to leave my six year old in the car for five minutes while I run into the store. I'm going to let him have a say in the fate of the country?

  • Rich from Ohio||

    The biggest worry I have would be vote farming. Teachers taking children on unannounced field trips to exercise their right to vote. We already have teachers taking children off campus to have abortions without parent consent. To have teachers who spend more time with a child than many parents to would have an impact on shaping what information the child uses to decide their vote. What would stop a school from taking an "unofficial" poll of children then separate the children based on their answers and the ones who "correctly" in the view of the teacher are sent to vote while the rest are left in class to do homework? We could also see teachers offering students bribes for specific votes on particular issues. The temptation for school administrators, teachers, and teacher unions to manipulate elections especially on ballot measures that impact schools directly would be enormous.

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