Who’s Afraid of Universal Suffrage?
|August 18, 2012||Posted by Lindy Davies under The Obviologist Blog, Views|
The notion of lowering the voting age enjoys universal support in my household. My son, 15, and daughter, 11, are all for it; my wife, an education-reform activist who champions the urgent need for kids to be listened to and respected, is all for it. Most of our friends and family think it is a cute, idealistic notion that might be good in an ideal world. And I see that there are a few people out there in the Wild Blue Internet who also support the idea. But, of course, you can find supporters of any daft thing on the Internet.
As for exactly how it might be done, there are various proposals. The most popular one appears to be the less-radical notion of dipping the age to 16 — figuring that sixteen-year-olds are considered responsible enough to drive cars, yet aren’t yet as transient as eighteen year olds.
I would vote for that if it were on the ballot, of course — but I don’t think it goes far enough. I’ve been proposing to lower the voting age to 12. People usually think I’m kidding. But, once they hear a few of the good reasons for it, many agree that it’s a pretty darned good idea. For starters, we can easily dispense with the idea that kids are too immature, apathetic or uninformed to vote. After all, our current voting system brought us George W. Bush and the 112th United States Congress. Furthermore, I propose a measure to ensure that 12-year-olds are quite engaged indeed, and which will yield many additional benefits. The standard sixth-grade curriculum should include an extensive unit on Civics: how their government works at local, state and federal levels; what they’ll be eligible to vote for and why it will matter. I expect that kids would be pretty eager to learn these things, given that they’d get the vote at the end of it. They might even come home and get their immature, apathetic, uninformed parents engaged on the issues.
Others go even further, making a case for universal suffrage. Jonathan Bernstein makes a good brief case for it here. It’s argued that basic human rights don’t switch on at any particular age; they are basic human rights. Children have interests that are just as legitimate as adults’. If minors are incapable of making informed decisions, their parents should be able to cast their votes by proxy until they reach the appropriate age.
When I first heard this idea, it appealed to me. I could find nothing wrong with its logic. But, it seemed to remove the great educational opportunities that were such an important part of my voting-at-twelve proposal.
But rights are rights, after all, and extremism in defense of liberty is… well… not a bad thing. So why not combine the two? Perhaps the best way to reform voting is for each individual to have the vote from birth, with parents casting the kids’ votes until they reach the age of 12. And, yes, I would grant that power to the noncitizen parents of children born in the United States; it would only be fair.
The more I think about this, the more I think it wouldn’t just be a nice, generous, liberal thing to do. I think it just may be the key to making our democratic system functional again (perhaps more so, even, than it ever has been). Children are not — thank goodness — as beaten-down by the incessant demands of practicality and compromise as adults. Children see things as they could be, and ask “Why not?” And how many 12-year-olds do you know who don’t love planet earth and want to see it saved?
Children everywhere bear the worst burdens of poverty; universal suffrage would help them. And full, autonomous voting rights at age 12 would bring a new wave, every single year, of enthusiastic new voters who have a better-than-average understanding of our political system. Yes, I do indeed think that would change things, for the very much better.