Should we Lower the Voting Age to Six?
In a recent article in the The Guardian, British political scientist David Runciman outlines his case for lowering the voting age to six. Most people will be inclined to reject the idea out of hand. But the argument for it is stronger than you might think. Pretty much every argument for denying the vote to children would – if applied consistently – also justify denying it to large numbers of adults. Here’s an excerpt from Runciman’s piece:
The arguments against allowing children to vote always start with the basic question of competence. But what that means is that we are applying standards to children that we have given up applying to anyone else. It is true, of course, that many children would struggle to understand complex political questions, especially younger children. It is hard to envisage a group of six-year-olds getting to grips with fiscal policy. But many adults also struggle with complex political questions, and all of us have big gaps in our political understanding….. The fact is that we don’t apply a test of competence before granting the right to vote to anyone other than children. So why start with them?
Setting imaginary tests before allowing enfranchisement is an essentially 19th-century idea. The basis of the principle of universal suffrage that replaced it is that we no longer believe voting is a right that belongs to individuals on the grounds of their competence to exercise it. Instead, it is a right that belongs to each of us because we are members of a democratic political community, and will have to live with the consequences of the decisions that are made by politicians on our behalf. If we suffer the consequences of those decisions, we should have a right to express a view about who gets to decide. That applies to children just as much as adults.
Perhaps, instead, the argument against letting children vote is less a principled one than a pragmatic one. Surely more adults are likely to understand what is at stake in an election than a group of schoolchildren. But that depends a great deal on how we conceive of the groups in question….
The question of competence – and the difficulty of using it as an argument against extending the vote to children – is especially acute in ageing societies such as our own. As the population ages, so the number of voters suffering from dementia and other forms of cognitive decline rises. But we don’t take the vote away from old people, and we don’t apply tests of competence to individuals in their 80s and 90s.
Perhaps the problem with children voting is not that they are less knowledgeable than adults, but that they are less mature and have worse judgment. But, as I explained in a 2018 post on an earlier version of Runciman’s proposal, large numbers of adult voters also have the same flaws:
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 manag
Article from Reason.com