Archive | Voting Rights for Children

Is it Unjust to Require Children to Pass a Knowledge Test to Vote, but Not Adults?

Canadian legal blogger Leonid Sirota has posted an interesting response to my post advocating extension of the franchise to politically knowledgeable children. He argues that it is unjust to require children to pass a knowledge test for voting, but not adults. He would therefore prefer to lower the voting age to 16 instead:

Pour ma part, je pense que l’option du vote à 16 ans est préférable à celle d’un test. Au-delà problèmes d’administrabilité évoqués par prof. Somin, ce sont arguments qu’il apporte lui-même qui semblent militer contre l’instauration de tests pour les mineurs. S’il n’y a pas de bonne raison de traiter les jeunes différemment des adultes, et les arguments de prof. Somin pour dire qu’il n’y en a pas sont très convaincants, alors il est sûrement injuste d’instaurer un test pour les premiers mais pas pour les seconds. Si les connaissances du système politique devraient être un critère pour pouvoir voter, il n’y a pas de raison pour ne pas appliquer ce critère aux adultes.

Sirota’s post is in French, which I understand, but most of our US readers probably don’t. I would translate the key passage roughly as follows: “If there is no good reason to treat the young differently from adults, and Prof. Somin’s arguments that there isn’t one are very convincing, it is surely unjust to institute a test for the former, but not the latter. If knowledge of the political system should be a prerequisite to getting the right to vote, there is no reason not to apply that criterion to adults.” If I have gotten the translation wrong, I hope Sirota or one of our French-speaking readers will correct me.

I am not convinced by Sirota’s objection. It’s true that my proposal doesn’t eliminate all unequal treatment of children and adults. Children would [...]

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Education and Voting Rights for Knowledgeable Children

In response to my post arguing that we should grant voting rights to politically knowledgeable children, Paul Horwitz of Prawfsblawg makes the following suggestion:

What spurred this post is Ilya Somin’s argument on the VC yesterday that knowledgeable children ought to be allowed to vote. He addresses some standard objections in his post, but a number of his commenters wrote to argue that such a rule, if enforced by knowledge or literacy tests, would end up privileging some groups and disadvantaging others (as, indeed, previous tests have done in the United States). Indeed, given massive educational inequality in this country, it’s hard not to see how this proposal wouldn’t give much more electoral power to the wealthy, well-educated, mostly white elite. Unless….perhaps Ilya would welcome a trade-off: knowledgeable children get the vote, in exchange for guarantees of massive public/private efforts to assure meaningful educational and welfare rights to ensure that the opportunity to be a knowledgeable child voter is fairly and widely distributed among the entire population rather than limiting that vote to enclaves with better resources. I’m just going to go ahead and consider this Ilya’s very subtle case for overruling San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez [the 1973 decision that ruled that there is no constitutional right to equal education spending].

Paul is, of course, entitled to interpret my argument however he wants. But I have no desire to overrule Rodriguez. Setting aside the legal merits of the case, extensive evidence compiled by economists Eric Hanushek and Alfred Lindseth shows that increasing education spending in public schools does little or nothing to increase educational achievement. On the other hand, I would be happy if my child-voting proposal were paired with increased school choice, which does have a demonstrated record of increasing educational achievement among poor [...]

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Suffer the Little Children to Vote

On this election day, as on most others, we will hear a lot about the need to increase turnout and the dangers of voter suppression. But few will even consider questioning the systematic exclusion of a huge part of our population from the franchise: children under the age of 18. We allow even the most ignorant and irresponsible adults to vote, but exclude even the most knowledgeable and insightful children. And to add insult to injury, we saddle them with a mediocre education system and trillions of dollars in public debt that they will someday have to repay.

For reasons I outlined during the last presidential election, this is both unjust and counterproductive. We should at least consider allowing children to vote if they are more knowledgeable than the average adult voter:

The main objection to giving children the vote is that they lack the knowledge to make informed choices. Of course the same is true of most of the adult electorate, who are rationally ignorant about politics and public policy, and often don’t know even very basic facts. Nonetheless, it’s probably true that the average child knows a lot less about politics than the average adult, and that may be a good reason to deny most children the franchise. But why deny it to all of them? If a minor can pass a test of basic political knowledge (say, the political knowledge equivalent of the citizenship test administered to immigrants seeking naturalization), why shouldn’t he or she have the right to vote? Such a precocious child-voter would probably be more knowledgeable than the majority of the adult population. Giving her the right to vote would actually increase the average knowledge level of the electorate and thereby slightly improve the quality of political decision-making. I’ve met twelve-year-olds with


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