Votes For Children

Eric Joyce MP has written about why he doesn't think the vote should be extended to 16 year olds. While I've admired his stance on digital rights, I disagree with him and his reasoning on this issue.

This isn't about whether young people are able to understand the issues, or whether they are taxed without representation, or even if they are somehow "mature". We vote because the direction of the government affects us. No matter our age.

It is my contention that every citizen of this country should be able to vote. No matter what their age.

Imagine the following system. Every live birth registered up until the day an election is called is worth one vote. Parents would be able to vote on their child's behalf up until the parents thought the child able to vote for themselves.

If you are a single parent with two small children - you get, in effect, three votes.

We can't have a test for the age of maturity - that would be extremely politically loaded and probably disenfranchise the elderly, the disabled, and the illiterate. Every citizen whose life is affected by the Government ought to have a say in how they are governed. If they are unable to comprehend the arguments or physically unable to vote - their parent or guardian should act in their best interests as their proxy.

Mr Joyce puts forward some very disingenuous arguments against lowering the voting age. He seems to confuse the age of maturity with the ability to to be a fully franchised citizen. He says:

Do we want to say that voters are adults (and so treat 16 year olds as adults), or that it's not that important so we let kids do it too. Do we want 14 and 15 year old’s details on the publicly available voters register, with parties ringing their homes to lobby them? Do we want 16 year olds risking death in theatres of war? Do we want 16 year olds treated as adults in the justice system? Do we want them buying their own alcohol in pubs and off-licences (the SNP doesn’t, by the way, it wants to raise that age to 21)? And why draw the line at 16 in any case – 14 year olds can pay tax and are perfectly capable of understanding the arguments put by political parties at election time.

I'd like to take those points in order.

  • Voters don't have to be adults. Either mentally or physically. Adults are capable of reckless acts and children capable of maturity.
  • The names and addresses of all citizens are already available. I remember my (Conservative) MP sending me a birthday card when I turned 18 - a shameless tactic.
  • Regarding lobbying children - I honestly think it would be a good idea for politicians to explain their proposals in simpler language. In 2005, fewer than 20% of people with a learning disability voted. Thanks, in part, to Mencap producing manifestos suitable for people with learning difficulties - that figure rose to 31% for the 2010 election. So, yes, politicians should court the youth - either directly or through their guardians.
  • Regarding rights and responsibilities - Joyce has already pointed out the age related discrepancies in our laws. This could be another of them. Or, just as we don't expect (some) people with mental health issues to be tried as adults or conscripted into the armed forces, neither would we expect children to shoulder this responsibility. An 89 year old woman is unlikely to be asked to risk life and limb - yet she is able to vote for a war-hungry government.
  • On the subject of age related hazards - again, this is a specious argument. Why shouldn't anyone capable of passing a driving test be allowed to drive? For "sinful" or dangerous substances like alcohol - do we ban drunk drivers or alcoholics from purchasing alcohol? We don't ban children because they don't understand the risks - but because these items have a damaging impact on the developing body.
  • Finally a point we agree on! Why draw the line at 16? Children pay tax, and have their rights dictated to by local and national politicians. Why should anyone be disenfranchised?

Children enjoy human rights, and they are protected by the law. We give them a right to education, to life, and to healthcare. We shelter them when homeless, and feed them when hungry. But we don't give them - or their proxies - any say in the provision of these services or how they are governed.

Abolishing the voting age isn't without its problems. We will never arrive at a system which is free from defects and edge cases - but this is an improvement on our current situation. It would engage young people in politics, and invest them with the idea of personal democracy.

Politicians are constantly harping on about "hard working families" and how we must think of the children. This would - I hope - ensure policies which were good for families and good for children.

Votes for all.


8 Responses to “Votes For Children”

  1. Jim (@plntxt) Image of Jim (@plntxt)

    I'd like a younger voting age here in the states, but votes for children would give a huge voting advantage to those who procreate more liberally, i.e. religious conservatives. That would be the main problem as I see, the more kids you have the greater your voting power as a family. If we need to pick an arbitrary age, 16 seems like a good one. Old enough to commandeer a deadly vehicle *should* mean old enough to think independently.

    Reply
    • Terence Eden Image of Terence Eden

      I don't quite understand your reasoning. If I go off and have a dozen kids now, they're likely to vote for "my" party once they reach the voting age. So does it make any difference to the voting system? They are still going to be there, voting.

      Similarly, I could get all right-minded-patriots to move to a specific constituency in order to swing a vote.

      Reply
      • Jim (@plntxt) Image of Jim (@plntxt)

        The reasoning is that children without the ability to reason are going to vote as their parents see fit. When they are older they have the ability to make up their own minds. Even if it agrees with their parents opinion 90% of the time (which would be high I would think), it is still their decision, not their parents.

        Why should my neighbor who has 8 kids, get 9 votes to my three for myself and my two kids? I don't care about the future. I mean right now. Especially since the politics of today are likely different than the politics of a decade or two from now.

        (Plus if you go off and have a dozen kids right now, then I feel bad for your partner as that would be painful -- or perhaps you mean adoption -- which would just be an example of how the unscrupulous would/could game the system.)

        Reply
        • Jim (@plntxt) Image of Jim (@plntxt)

          Think of it like this -- in the U.S. mentally retarded adults have the right to vote. But obviously there is an ethical issue here as they may not have the faculty to understand the issues or even to choose a candidate.

          Many mentally retarded adults live in group homes. Their direct caretaker (who could be any individual on election day due to scheduling) doesn't get to choose a candidate and cast a vote for that person simply because the group home resident has the right to vote. The individual needs to express independent interest in voting in order to do so.

          Giving me three votes because I have two children doesn't somehow empower my children to choose. It just gives me more voting power because I happen to have children who may or may not support my views when they reach an age where they can choose with their own reasoning.

          Reply
          • Terence Eden Image of Terence Eden

            And I don't have a problem with that. You vote, one assumes, in the best interest of your children. You buy food and clothes for them, make medical decisions on their behalf - so why shouldn't you also vote on their behalf?

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  2. Jim (@plntxt) Image of Jim (@plntxt)

    I get your reasoning, but I think it skews the electorate towards prodigious breeders and marginalizes those who choose to have smaller families or perhaps no family at all.

    Giving people more voting power because they have larger families is essentially discrimination.

    Reply
  3. Becky Image of Becky

    Hmm, it is an interesting idea and I think the age should be lowered to 16, especially because of the other legal rights 16 year-olds have. However i do not think that giving children a vote is a good idea. I think this because I feel, as an adult, a responsibility to think carefully about who I vote for and to vote is a right and a responsibility. As a parent I do not think it is fair to ask children to have this responsibility and I would not want my children to do so. 16 is young enough. I also think that children should have time outside of a system run for centuries in a certain way to experience creative thinking and thinking outside the box. this time helps to perhaps create the movers and shakers in society and in politics in each generation. I feel it is important for children and for society as a whole to have this time-out, before they need to grow up and face 'real life' and politics effect on it. I do however agree that children's opinions should be more listened to and a child asking 'why?' is a precious and useful tool that many voting adults could perhaps benefit from listening to! :)

    Reply
  4. Denny Image of Denny

    I'd like to see the voting age reduced if only because it would hopefully terrify adults into voting more if they thought a large voting block of children might go against them :D I've said in the past that I'd also like to see 'citizenship' classes in school which actually walked the kids to the place where they can vote on the appropriate day, to increase the chance of that youth block vote happening and 'forcing' 20/30-somethings to vote in greater numbers.

    It hadn't occurred to me to extend the franchise down below teens though, I'm massively intrigued by how that could work out. I suspect there is room for some nastiness in your proxy-voting proposal... but at least it would be different nastiness from the current system, which is itself far from perfect.

    Interestingly, my direct democracy proposal from the last election would allow changes in voting age (on issues if not on candidates) to be trialled on a local level.

    Reply

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