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Should (Some) Children Have the Right to Vote?

The Canadian Green Party didn't win a single seat in yesterday's election, but Green Party leader Elizabeth May made a very interesting comment:

"It's obviously a disappointment," she told reporters before heading off to console her own supporters with an upbeat speech. "We ran an exuberant and joyful campaign. If kids five years and up could have voted, I would have won by a landslide," declared Ms. May, who lost by several thousand votes.

May probably didn't mean to seriously suggest that children should have the right to vote. But I'm not convinced that it would be such a terrible idea. 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 far higher levels of political knowledge than that of the average adult. You probably have too.

Once the knowledge objection is off the table, all the arguments for giving adults the right to vote also apply to sufficiently knowledgeable children. Like the adults, children have a claim to the franchise because government policies affect them too, because otherwise their interests might be undervalued in the political process, because it affirms their status as citizens with equal rights, and so on.

Obviously, there might be some difficult administrative issues. For example, we might not trust the government to put together an adequate knowledge test. But I don't see any principled reason to deny the franchise to children whose political knowledge is greater than that of most adult voters.

Some people might worry that even knowledgeable child-voters will be "unduly" influenced by their parents' preferences. Given the existence of the secret ballot, I doubt that this would be a major problem. Moreover, children who are knowledgeable enough to pass the test and interested enough to take it will probably have at least some political ideas of their own that aren't easily susceptible to parental suasion. In any event, I'm not sure that the possibility of parental persuasion would necessarily be a bad thing. The objection is in fact similar to one of the arguments once raised against giving women the right to vote - that they would be unduly influenced by their husbands or fathers. Husbands will often influence the views of their wives (and vice versa); similarly, parents will influence those of their children. That doesn't by itself justify denying either married people or children the right to vote.

UPDATE: Some commenters note that children might lack maturity or life experience, as well as knowledge. Obviously they do lack it. I'm just not convinced that either is tremendously useful for voting. Most voting decisions have to do with complex, large-scale policy issues that can't easily be weighed based on personal experience. Realistically, even most adults have little life experience that is directly useful in assessing difficult policy issues. I discuss the limited utility of personal life experience to voting decisions in this paper (pp. 9-10). At the very least, it seems to me that superior knowledge might well outweigh inferior maturity and life experience. And I'm only advocating giving the franchise to children who can demonstrate knowledge levels superior to those of the average adult voter.

UPDATE #2: Various commenters cite the value for voting of such "adult" experiences as holding a job, paying taxes, owning property, and so on. For reasons noted in the first update, I'm skeptical that these experiences greatly improve the quality of voting decisions. Even more to the point, however, we don't exclude from the franchise the many adults who lack some or all of these experiences - even if they are also ignorant of even the most basic political knowledge. If lack of life experience is not enough to justify exclusion of even the most ignorant adults from the franchise, I don't see why it should be considered sufficient to exclude vastly more knowledgeable minors.

UPDATE #3: For a more thoroughgoing argument for giving children the vote (in this case all children), see here. I disagree with some of the points, but the author does do a good job of knocking down some of the standard arguments against letting minors vote.

Dan M.:
Would there be voter suppression scandals if a lot of kids happened to be grounded on election day?
10.15.2008 11:47am
FantasiaWHT:
I would be MUCH more concerned with children being influenced by their teachers' ideology than their parents. The person quoted in the article is quite right - I'm amazed at the extreme environmentalism that's often taught in elementary school.
10.15.2008 11:47am
VincentPaul (mail):
Yes, but only if each vote is weighed according to the voter's age.
10.15.2008 11:49am
Burt Likko (mail) (www):
I think we'd be talking about very low-propensity voters here -- bright teenagers, mostly. And imposition of a knowledge test could substantially depress voter turnout among adults. (That might not be a bad thing, just a phenomenon we could reasonably anticipate.) The real danger is that absent a certain degree of cynicism, the "have a cookie" school of political pandering would be a particular lure for voters this young and unsophisticated. Adult voters fall for it too often as it is.
10.15.2008 11:50am
Dan Schmutter:
But its not just that children lack knowledge, they also lack maturaity and life experience.

Even a child who has raw political knowledge doesn't necessarily understand the real world implications of many things. Children have never paid taxes or worked for a living or paid a medical bill or invested money.

In short, they typically don't make adult decisions and don't typically experience adult consequences. All of these things generally inform policital decision making, even for rationally ignorant adults. Rationally ignorant adults may not spend the time to learn political facts, but they cannot help but have life experience and a level of maturity children simply don't have.

Dan Schmutter
10.15.2008 11:51am
Sk (mail):
"The main objection to giving children the vote is that they lack the knowledge to make informed choices."

Is it? No concerns about emotional or psychological maturity? Life experience? Nothing else?

Do we deny children the right to drive, or drink alcohol, or have sex, or own guns, because of their lack of knowledge about certain subjects? Or is there more to it?

Sk
10.15.2008 11:52am
Snaphappy:
Agree with Dan Schmutter, a name so good you have to say it twice: Dan Schmutter.
10.15.2008 11:55am
Ilya Somin:
And imposition of a knowledge test could substantially depress voter turnout among adults. (That might not be a bad thing, just a phenomenon we could reasonably anticipate.)

I was only advocating the test for minors.
10.15.2008 11:55am
arthur:
Intersting discusison here. Conclusion: Almost all of the arguments against children voting were previously raised in opposition to women, blacks, or non-property holders voting.
10.15.2008 11:56am
wilky (mail):
And yet we have laws that limit children from working.

My senior year in HS, I told my father that I was going to a X rated movie with my friends. After some argueing I told him "I'm an American and I have rights." He looked me dead in the eye and said "until you get a job, put a roof over your head and pay taxes, the only rights you have are what you have earned from me." There is a lot of wisdom in those words.


"We ran an exuberant and joyful campaign. If kids five years and up could have voted, I would have won by a landslide," declared Ms. May, who lost by several thousand votes.


They might have won if they spoke to the adults in the room.
10.15.2008 12:00pm
RDC (mail):
Dan Schmutter--
I started working and paying taxes at age 14. I watched my money get funneled into FICA, state taxes, and federal taxes, with nary a chance to express my feelings about how it was spent at the voting booth.

I agree with your sentiment that children who've never had to pay taxes shouldn't get to vote, as long as you require the same of adults. How is it fair that a productive 17-year-old gets no say in how his tax money is spent, but a 30-year-old welfare queen who's never worked a day in her life gets to decide how to decide how the 17-year-old's money is spent?
10.15.2008 12:00pm
JB:
What Dan Schmutter said.

And unlike women, blacks, and non-property holders, no one's suggesting having kids invest, work, pay medical bills, pay taxes, or otherwise be included in the fullness of adult responsibilities and privileges, as many did, eventually successfully, for the other groups.
10.15.2008 12:02pm
SSFC (www):
As the sole possessor of my infinitesimal share of the overall franchise, why should I dilute my power further, in favor of children, the ultimate welfare recipients?

These would be voters who by law cannot work, and by experience overwhelmingly do not know the value of labor and a dollar, no matter how bright. I don't favor a return to property qualifications as the determinant of the franchise, but this is a bit much.
10.15.2008 12:05pm
SMatthewStolte (mail):
If you make knowledge the criteria for children, why shouldn't you do the same for adults?

That's one question.

The other is this: assume that the number of children voting will be enough to impact the election. Assume, also, that the knowledge required for being an informed voter is not fixed. Thus, the test would only make sense if it could be modified over time. But who would modify it? And how could you avoid creating massive interest groups trying to influence the content of the test?

Consider this presidential election. From my perspective, knowledge about the irreconcilable wing of Islam is one of the most important factors in making a decision. Another important bit of knowledge is whether the Great Depression was prolonged or made easier by the New Deal.
10.15.2008 12:07pm
Deoxy (mail):
The age requirement for voting is a pretty good "bright line" rule - the number of people below that age who "should" be eligible to vote is tiny. The number of people over that age who "shouldn't" vote is quite a bit larger (IMO). If you want to overhaul the system so that voting at all required some kind of test, well, that's a reasonable discussion. But only for kids? Massive costs, negligible benefit (at best).

And that's without discussing the other points:

"I would be MUCH more concerned with children being influenced by their teachers' ideology than their parents."

ME TOO! Let's just give the government even more reason to ideologically slant the material in school (as if they didn't have enough already). Let's also put more votes in the government's pocket, so they can do as they wish.

"Do we deny children the right to drive, or drink alcohol, or have sex, or own guns, because of their lack of knowledge about certain subjects? Or is there more to it?"

Ding ding ding. We have a winner.

RDCs point about adults who shouldn't be allowed to vote is a good one, but that's a MUCH larger discussion... one I wouldn't mind seeing, mind you, but any kind of change would require overcoming several SCOTUS rulings, which is a pretty big thing to contemplate.
10.15.2008 12:09pm
Dan Schmutter:
RDC -

I guess my point was not so much that paying taxes should be the criterion for the right to vote, but that age is a rough proxy for maturity and life experience, of which paying taxes, supporting yourself, paying rent or a mortgage, feeding yourself, etc. are a part.

All of these things help one understand the implications of political decisions.

Dan Schmutter
10.15.2008 12:11pm
Hoosier:
Translating this from the elections industry to my industry:

"My book would have received much better reviews if children over five were writing reviews for International History Review."

Hmm.

I'm not sure that this makes me sound very good.
10.15.2008 12:13pm
A Law Dawg:
At the very least, it seems to me that superior knowledge might well outweigh inferior maturity and life experience. And I'm only advocating giving the franchise to children who can demonstrate knowledge levels superior to those of the average adult voter.


Are you advocating a literacy test?
10.15.2008 12:15pm
finman:
How long do you think it would take before there would be lawsuits alleging the tests are biased against minorities and/or low income children? Would there be separate standards for passing scores based on race, family income, etc.? I agree it's not a bad idea in theory, but in practice it wouldn't be feasible.
10.15.2008 12:15pm
Hoosier:
Conclusion: Almost all of the arguments against children voting were previously raised in opposition to women, blacks, or non-property holders voting.

And could be used by the unscrupulous in the future against badgers, ocelots, and squids of all kinds.
10.15.2008 12:15pm
Ilya Somin:
Are you advocating a literacy test?


No, a political knowledge test. But one applicable only to children.
10.15.2008 12:16pm
PLR:
And I'm only advocating giving the franchise to children who can demonstrate knowledge levels superior to those of the average adult voter.

While they are wards, they shouldn't be entitled to vote: their custodian(s) speaks for them. If they become emancipated, they can vote as far as I'm concerned, no test necessary.

A bright line of age or emancipation is far easier and more sensible to administer than some dumbass trivia test written by a bureaucrat.
10.15.2008 12:17pm
A.C.:
Good grief! I don't even like to discuss politics with anyone under 35. The life experience that matters most is the kind that lets you distinguish business as usual from bizarre new events, and you only get that by watching a few cycles of whatever phenomenon you're interested in.

That's why undergraduate politics gets the way it does. Everything is happening For The First Time Ever, and it Absolutely Must Be Solved Now.

Which it isn't, and mustn't, 98% of the time.

If you want to make an argument for lowering the voting age to 16 across the board (or for that matter putting it back up to 21), go ahead. The privileges and responsibilities of adulthood kick in on a rolling basis between ages 16 and 25, and I think we can have a reasonable argument about where in that range any given thing should fall. But I wouldn't go outside it.
10.15.2008 12:19pm
Rich B. (mail):
In our town, there more frequent complain is the opposite -- allowing 18 year olds to vote.

In New Jersey, we vote annually on our school budget, and the vote is often close. 90%+ of the voters are property owners who pay the taxes and (if they have kids) get the advantage of the schools. Many of the "no" voters, of course, have no kids so don't want lots of money being funneled to the schools.

The most frequent "yes" voters, though, are high school seniors who (1) don't pay property taxes because they live with mom and dad; and (2) won't actually benefit because they are off to college next year.

Many think that they should not be allowed to vote, even if they are 18.
10.15.2008 12:20pm
Dan Schmutter:

Some commenters note that children might lack maturity or life experience, as well as knowledge. Obviously they do lack it. I'm just not convinced that either is tremendously useful for voting. Most voting decisions have to do with complex, large-scale policy issues that can't easily be weighed based on personal experience. Realistically, even most adults have little life experience that is directly useful in assessing difficult policy issues.


Ilya -

I think the value of life experience and maturity are not so much that they provide knowledge of complex political issues but that they provide context for making decisions.

You correctly point out that many adults lack political knowledge, but at least they have their own experience within which to process whatever political knowledge they do have. An adult who works for a living, sees his taxes rising, has to deal with high medical bills and watches his 401k going down the drain can internalize the implications of policy positions better than a child with no such life experience.

To a child, such things are utterly abstract. An adult may not have sufficient information to make a fully informed decision, but at least he can process whatever information he does have in a meangful context. Children can only process such information in a vacuum, which strikes me as useless for political decision making, suggesting that it is therefore unwise to let them make such decisions.

Dan Schmutter
10.15.2008 12:26pm
A Law Dawg:
Are you advocating a literacy test?

No, a political knowledge test. But one applicable only to children.


In what way does such a test avoid the obvious abuses of a standard literacy test?

If those abuses are curbed, why limit the requirement only to children?
10.15.2008 12:26pm
Ilya Somin:
Good grief! I don't even like to discuss politics with anyone under 35. The life experience that matters most is the kind that lets you distinguish business as usual from bizarre new events, and you only get that by watching a few cycles of whatever phenomenon you're interested in.

Well, then I hope you didn't read any of my posts until I turned 35 this June, or any of the articles I wrote before then.
10.15.2008 12:26pm
FWB (mail):
14th Amendment - can't advocate a test only for minors. Technically, all laws treating minors differently from adults violate the 14th. The 14th is clear, unambiguous and words mean what they say, not what a bunch of thugs in black robes say. Equal protection is equal protection and the 14th prohibits ALL groupings.

And it would be an excellent idea to test EVERYONE before allowing them to vote. Oh, I think that was already tried. Wasn't it ruled unconstitutional?

Gee, wasn't property ownership required in most of the US at the time of the founding? Why? Because one needs to have a dog in the fight in order to really be interested.

Why not eliminate suffrage from those who pay no taxes? They have nothing to lose, generally vote to steal from those who work, and contribute little to the world.
10.15.2008 12:27pm
Skorri (mail):
I always figured the vote was around 18 (or previously 21) because before that age, your parents are expected to be your advocates. A vote isn't necessary because, presumably, your welfare will be taken into consideration by your guardians when *they* vote.

After emancipation, however, you're on your own. And since all citizens -- regardless of intelligence level or political awareness -- have desires and requirements from the political system, they need the ability to express that through their vote.

So while I wouldn't be in favor of allowing "children" to vote, I wouldn't mind tying ability to vote with emancipation. So in practice, almost all would vote at 18, but a few precocious souls would get the vote earlier.
10.15.2008 12:30pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

The main objection to giving children the vote is that they lack the knowledge to make informed choices.

My objection is that kids are goofy. I was applying a band of Tree Tanglefoot to my tree in the front yard, when the neighbor kid wandered by. I explained that the material was extremely sticky, and that any insects that tried to climb the trunk would get stuck in it. Then he said he wanted to touch it. I warned him it would stick to his finger and be very difficult to remove.

I came back an hour later to see smears of Tanglefoot on the front of my house. Obviously, he had touched the Tanglefoot and found it was indeed extremely sticky and very difficult to remove. Thus, though I had given this child sufficient knowledge about the stickiness of the material for him to make an informed choice not to touch it, the kid decided to make an uninformed choice, and touch it anyway. The extrapolation to irrational electoral choices is obvious.
10.15.2008 12:30pm
Ilya Somin:
You correctly point out that many adults lack political knowledge, but at least they have their own experience within which to process whatever political knowledge they do have. An adult who works for a living, sees his taxes rising, has to deal with high medical bills and watches his 401k going down the drain can internalize the implications of policy positions better than a child with no such life experience.

For reasons I discuss in the linked article, this kind of experience of is of little value to voting decisions without knowledge of how public policy works, how it affects taces, medical bills, etc. If you do have that kind of knowledge about the effects of policy, it's not clear why you would also need personal experience with bills, taxes, etc., as well in order to be an informed voter. Moreover, of course, there are plenty of adults who lack some or all these experiences. No one (any longer) advocates that they be denied the franchise. If lacking such experience isn't a good enough reason to exclude even the most ignorant adults, I don't see why it should be considered sufficient to exclude highly knowledgeable children.
10.15.2008 12:32pm
Ilya Somin:
No, a political knowledge test. But one applicable only to children.



In what way does such a test avoid the obvious abuses of a standard literacy test?

If those abuses are curbed, why limit the requirement only to children?


As I said in the post, there could be administrative objections to my proposal, such that we wouldn't trust the govt to come up with an adequate test. I don't claim to have addressed these issues.
10.15.2008 12:33pm
pete (mail) (www):

Do we deny children the right to drive, or drink alcohol, or have sex, or own guns, because of their lack of knowledge about certain subjects? Or is there more to it?


Uh, but we really do not deny all children these things. I was driving at age 16, which is still legally a child and I was paying taxes (sales and occasionally fica) at that age too. And it is prefectly legal in some situations for some children to have sex and to drink alcohol and to have possession of guns.

The reason we have an 18 year old limit is that there needs to arbirtrary cut off point for convenience sake. Everyone agrees that a 2 week old child should not get a vote, but there is not that much difference between an 18 year old and a person one week away from their 18th birthday in terms of reasoning and moral decision making. You can argue that the date should be earlier, but it would be a big hassle and there would be lots of potential for abuse without one arbitrarily selected date for everyone. And since our society picks 18 years old for most stuff as the time you are officially an adult we will stick with that.

When I was a teenager I read the newspaper pretty much every day mainly for the political news sections and for the most part was probably better informed than most adult voters and I had plenty of friends who were about as informed as I was. I missed helping vote in the republican revolution in congress in 1994 by about 2 months and was a volunteer counting punch card votes in that election. But for convenience sake I am fine with me being disfranchised at that point because we have to a line somewhere and 18 years old has worked fine so far so don't fix what ain't broke.
10.15.2008 12:34pm
A.S.:
Some commenters note that children might lack maturity or life experience, as well as knowledge. Obviously they do lack it. I'm just not convinced that either is tremendously useful for voting. Most voting decisions have to do with complex, large-scale policy issues that can't easily be weighed based on personal experience.

But life experience and maturity surely have a lot MORE relevance to "complex, large-scale policy issues" than do the simple questions on the test that Ilya is advocating.

Ilya appears to believe that passing a test with questions about the number of stripes on the flag, or the number of representatives in Congress, is more relevant to weighing "complex, large-scale policy issues" than is life experience and maturity. That seems to me to ludicrous. There is virtually nothing on the test that Ilya advocates that would help one weigh complex, large-scale policy issues.

Moreover, the idea that voting should be based on "issues" is unbelievably narrow. We generally don't vote with respect to specific policy proposals in this country; we vote for individuals as candidates. And a lot of what we vote for involves judgements about the types of people those candidates are. And, in that respect, knowledge of "issues" irrelevant - life experience is the primary thing that matters.
10.15.2008 12:34pm
Big E:
Kids are just like small insane adults, some could be trusted with the right to vote, some could not. I would rather my youngest who is 15 vote instead of my 18 year old.
10.15.2008 12:35pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
Ilya is again showing why people in academia are regarded with contempt.
10.15.2008 12:35pm
James Gibson (mail):
Historically the right to vote went with the obligations of military service. When a man reached 18 years of age he entered the militia. At the same time he gained the right to vote. Women didn't vote and women in turn had no obligation to fight for the community. As for men who were not part of the community- transient workers who moved from town to town with their work- they were not registered to vote since they had no place of residence and were not on any militia roles. The only exception to this rule were the men who had permanent residences but, due to their occupation, were exempted to militia service.

All this changed over time to where today all citizens have the right to vote regardless of gender or race. But one issue has remained and that is age. We prohibit children voting due to their lack of experience, and we at intervals limit the elderly due to the effect of age on their strength of mind. Thus, we require soundness of mind as a requirement to vote, or at least the determination that we are responsible for our own actions and thus can make a responsible vote.

Having said all this I note a report this morning that a group of undergrad and graduate students have used a fake address in a battleground state to acquire residency status and thus to allow them to vote absentee in said state while they also vote in their home state. In this these young- bright- minds think they are showing initiative and intelligence. Instead they are showing that they are fully willing to use deceit and fraud to achieve a goal. This is no different then cheating on an exam or plagiarizing other's writing for a thesis. While we are debating the value of having children vote when they don't know what they are voting on, young adults who should know are showing that they lack ethics.
10.15.2008 12:38pm
Hoosier:
Hoosier's Modest Proposal for a constitutional amendment:

1) No one votes who has not graduated from high school, or earned an equivalency certificate;

2) High school graduates/GED holders may vote if: (a)they are going to colleeg less than full time, or (b)not attending college;

3) No one attending college full time shall vote;

4) College graduates shall be allowed to vote, unless they are attending graduate school full time; if they are attending graduate school full time, they shall not vote;

5) No one with an earned doctoral degree shall ever vote;

6) Congress shall have the power to enforce this amendment through designation of officers to rochambeau violators.
10.15.2008 12:40pm
A Law Dawg:
14th Amendment - can't advocate a test only for minors. Technically, all laws treating minors differently from adults violate the 14th. The 14th is clear, unambiguous and words mean what they say, not what a bunch of thugs in black robes say.


Are you suggesting that the drafters of the 14th extended the franchise to newborns?

Equal protection is equal protection and the 14th prohibits ALL groupings.

Why not eliminate suffrage from those who pay no taxes? They have nothing to lose, generally vote to steal from those who work, and contribute little to the world.


There is a contradiction here.
10.15.2008 12:41pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Ilya Somin:

There's a lot more to life than book learning. It might be necessary, but hardly sufficient to making good judgments. Even child prodigies who can do adult level mathematics at age 14 lack the emotional maturity and experiences to make wise choices. A child no matter how smart and stuffed with facts is still in need of adult supervision. I'm amazed that you would make such a suggestion: How old are you?
10.15.2008 12:41pm
arthur:
The argument that children don't pay taxes is simply false. Children who have sufficient income pay income taxes at the same rates as adults. Children who have income from work (e.g. child actors) pay payroll taxes. Children who spend money pay sales taxes. Children who own real estate, most likely by inheritance, pay real estate taxes. While it's true that most children don't have income or property, many adults also don't, and they are permitted to vote.

Arguments connected to statutory prohibitions on drinking, driving, etc. as connected to prohibitions on voting are circular. Why can't children buy beer? Because they don't vote! If children could vote, legislatures would find they should be permitted to drink, and to drive if they can pass the test.
10.15.2008 12:42pm
Al Maviva:
How is it fair that a productive 17-year-old gets no say in how his tax money is spent, but a 30-year-old welfare queen who's never worked a day in her life gets to decide how to decide how the 17-year-old's money is spent?

And that's why kids don't vote. That's a kindergarten argument, right there. I could just as easily ask, "How fair is it that Republicans are going to get none of what they want for the next two to four years?"

The answer is, of course it's not fair. It's just, it's the rule of law, democracy in action, and how we run things here. Like a lot of other things in life, it's not about fairness, it's about pragmatism and moving ahead.

How fair is it that 52 or 53% of the population, 80% of which pay no taxes, are about to vote themselves a huge payraise out of my pocket? How fair is it that I'm smart which enables me to be productive, and a couple of my relatives are utter morons, which limits their prospects in life? How fair is it that Tom Brady is dating supermodels, and I'm not?

Fairness... bah!
10.15.2008 12:43pm
Ilya Somin:
But life experience and maturity surely have a lot MORE relevance to "complex, large-scale policy issues" than do the simple questions on the test that Ilya is advocating.

Ilya appears to believe that passing a test with questions about the number of stripes on the flag, or the number of representatives in Congress, is more relevant to weighing "complex, large-scale policy issues" than is life experience and maturity. That seems to me to ludicrous. There is virtually nothing on the test that Ilya advocates that would help one weigh complex, large-scale policy issues.


I said it should be the "political knowledge equivalent" of the citizenship test. Not that it should be the citizenship test itself. Obviously, a political knowledge test should ask relevant questions about the structure of government, public policy issues, and so on.
10.15.2008 12:44pm
Helene Edwards (mail):
Elizabeth May is proof of something Elizabeth Cady Stanton said around 1900, i.e. that intelligent political participation is beyond the ken of most women.
10.15.2008 12:44pm
eyesay:
RDC wrote:
How is it fair that a productive 17-year-old gets no say in how his tax money is spent, but a 30-year-old welfare queen who's never worked a day in her life gets to decide how to decide how the 17-year-old's money is spent?


Please identify this mythical welfare queen. Under President Clinton's 1996 welfare reform program, there is a 5-year lifetime limit on receiving welfare. If this woman went on welfare at age 21, she used up her lifetime quota at 26. What has she lived on since?
10.15.2008 12:44pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
To be more complete, I'll expound that Ilya seems to think that because some people vote based on reasons he (or she) thinks is irrational, then age limitations must be also irrational.

The premise that people must vote based on his criteria for being rational voters is snobbish, elitist and equally irrational. It is the entire purpose of our democratic system that people should be free to use their own opinions in whom to vote for and for what reasons and no one has a right to question that.
10.15.2008 12:47pm
A Law Dawg:
1) No one votes who has not graduated from high school, or earned an equivalency certificate;


As a former high school teacher I adamantly support this amendment, and have advocated it myself.
10.15.2008 12:47pm
john w. (mail):
If it were up to me, I would raise the voting age to 35(*). When you vote, you are indirectly telling other people how to run their lives, through the representatives that you voted for. And nobody should be telling other people how to run their lives until (s)he has spent at least 10 or 15 years running his/her own life.

(*) Per Heinlein, I would be willing to make exceptions to the age 35 rule for persons who had demonstrated maturity and a long-term commitment to Society by (for example) serving in the military, running a successful business, obtaining an advanced degree, being the primary caregiver and/or primary financial supporter of a family, etc., etc.

P.S.> Also, if it were up to me, I would disenfranchise anybody who was receiving more than 50% of their income from the Government -- whether as an employee, a welfare recipient, a contractor, or whatever.
10.15.2008 12:47pm
A Law Dawg:
It is the entire purpose of our democratic system that people should be free to use their own opinions in whom to vote for and for what reasons and no one has a right to question that.


Under our form of government I have the right to question anything I want, *especially* reasons.
10.15.2008 12:50pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Life experience is more important. If you have had the time--and it takes time to experience as much as would be useful--you really will run into a guy who's acting like the dog in the manger. Until you find such a moron, the fable, if you even hear it, is only a story. An old story. Once you meet this moron, some political appeals will be understandable.
Until you have been coerced by your peers into signing some petition to the principal, and thought about it with shame later, you won't know the power of the crowd, except in a dry, useless, intellectual way.
Until you get the first pay stub with all the take-aways listed, you don't have a serious clue what it's all about.
Until you find out what actually happened in history, instead of what is taught in public schools, or have time to talk to an older adult who was there, in one fashion or another, you have no clue about how earlier attempts worked out and cannot judge the claims that whatever's being proposed will work this time.
Actually, this will be a way of having high school teachers multiply their votes.
Really bright kids, the kind who know/think they're bright, usually identify with the brightest around, which is the teachers. Not that teachers are really brighter than many others, but in the kids' world, teachers are DESIGNATED as knowing all. Not like parents who don't have a freakin' clue.

We already have examples of teachers wearing Obama blue to school en masse. I can just imagine the classes.
10.15.2008 12:50pm
Seamus (mail):
The most frequent "yes" voters, though, are high school seniors who (1) don't pay property taxes because they live with mom and dad; and (2) won't actually benefit because they are off to college next year.

And I'm sure that the teachers of those seniors (who are a captive audience to whatever crank ideas the teachers have) never use their positions to try to influence the votes of those seniors.
10.15.2008 12:54pm
Hoosier:
Please identify this mythical welfare queen.

I wish it were a myth. But my wife's older sister has raised her three kids on welfare. And during that time built an addition on her house. For the indoor pool.

I am not sure "Queen" is the best description for someone with no sense of priorities who is willing to live in filth. But I resent sending the check to the IRS every time we visit her.
10.15.2008 12:55pm
Seamus (mail):
5) No one with an earned doctoral degree shall ever vote;

Great idea! (You did mean to include J.D.s, didn't you?)
10.15.2008 12:55pm
Ilya Somin:
The premise that people must vote based on his criteria for being rational voters is snobbish, elitist and equally irrational. It is the entire purpose of our democratic system that people should be free to use their own opinions in whom to vote for and for what reasons and no one has a right to question that.

Really! Well you should have no problem with children voting them. After all, they too "would use their own opinions in whom to vote for and for what reasons and no one has a right to question that."
10.15.2008 12:56pm
Hoosier:
P.S.> Also, if it were up to me, I would disenfranchise anybody who was receiving more than 50% of their income from the Government . . .

Well, that would obviate the need to disenfranchise PhD's, as per my amendment proposal above.
10.15.2008 12:57pm
Obvious (mail):
I'm surprised no one's mentioned that this very notion--some teenagers younger than 18 should be allowed to vote--was a subplot on a recent episode of Boston Legal. John Larroquette made a strong argument for it, similar to Ilya's. Rational ignorance wasn't mentioned, but the claim that political decisions heavily impact on the future of teenagers was stressed.
10.15.2008 12:57pm
10ksnooker (mail):
A better suggestion would be to not allow anyone under 30 to vote. An educated society is the foundation of freedom, and having ignorant voters is the only way leftists can get elected to anything.

Just ask Venezuela how it's working out for them these days. I wonder why we don't have any wire photos of the new communist paradise of Venezuela -- Or for that matter, where are the photos of Cuba and their glorious recovery from hurricane IKE, the AP ran the story about how easy it was, why no photos?
10.15.2008 12:58pm
pete (mail) (www):

Really bright kids, the kind who know/think they're bright, usually identify with the brightest around, which is the teachers. Not that teachers are really brighter than many others, but in the kids' world, teachers are DESIGNATED as knowing all. Not like parents who don't have a freakin' clue.


I do not know about that. I liked some of my teachers, but disagreed with many of their politics and none of the nerds and geeks I hung out with worshipped their teachers like you seem to think. And in my high school AP government and history classes we had spirited current events discussions that showed a pretty wide diversity of politics among the college bound student body.
10.15.2008 12:58pm
Hoosier:
Seamus (
5) No one with an earned doctoral degree shall ever vote;

Great idea! (You did mean to include J.D.s, didn't you?)


Seamus, my friend, do you think I'd disenfranchise myself while allowing most senators to vote?
10.15.2008 12:59pm
Obvious (mail):
Hoosier: I am not sure "Queen" is the best description for someone with no sense of priorities who is willing to live in filth. But I resent sending the check to the IRS every time we visit her.

No other time? I don't even know your sister-in-law, but can assure you the resentment is more general...
10.15.2008 12:59pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Should we test adults for "political knowledge," or something else before letting them vote? Of course we can't under current law, but perhaps the law needs changing. What sort of a test? One that tests reasoning, or one that tests the ability to regurgitate memorized facts? If we made the test easy enough and on a pass-fail basis, we might avoid racial disparities, rejecting only those who lack the motivation to master the test, or those who are real idiots. We might get a more informed or wiser voter, but I suspect elections would come out pretty much the same.

Getting a better voter won't cure the defects in democracy. Once a little more than half the population can exploit the other half economically, they will vote themselves a free lunch. We are almost there. Forty five percent of the electorate pays no income tax, and even the whole bottom 50% only pays 3% of the income tax. Now BHO wants to carry this a step further and directly give money to people who pay no taxes and call this a "text cut." It isn't a tax cut, it's direct income transference and is exactly the outcome one would expect in a democracy regardless of how informed the voters are.

So go ahead march toward the ideal democracy where everyone enjoys unfettered freedom to vote his self interest. But don't think for a moment this won't come without a cost.
10.15.2008 1:02pm
Skyler (mail) (www):

Really! Well you should have no problem with children voting them. After all, they too "would use their own opinions in whom to vote for and for what reasons and no one has a right to question that."



No, Ilya. Children haven't got fully functional brains.
10.15.2008 1:03pm
Hoosier:
All A have a right to x;

No B has a right to x;

All who x should y;

Some A do not y;

Therefore, B has a right to x.

Wait! It doesn't actually follow. How weird.
10.15.2008 1:03pm
Kenvee:
john w:

P.S.> Also, if it were up to me, I would disenfranchise anybody who was receiving more than 50% of their income from the Government -- whether as an employee, a welfare recipient, a contractor, or whatever.


Whoa whoa whoa! Government employees shouldn't be allowed to vote? Aren't government employees even more affected by many changes in government policy than the average taxpayer, and thus have a signficant interest in who is elected? Not to mention, my getting a paycheck from the county government doesn't mean a hill of beans when it comes to the federal government, so shouldn't I have just as much of a right to voice my opinion about federal issues as anyone else?

Cutting out all teachers in a vote on education or all police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges in a vote on criminal justice is just going to result in many of the people most affected by, interested in, and informed about an issue not being able to participate. This doesn't strike me as a particularly bright idea. And you're going to have a lot fewer people willing to do extremely important work if they're going to be strongly impacted by laws they have no ability to vote on, plus losing their voting rights on every other issue they care about.

Government workers are not your enemies. You may have a problem with some of them, but there are a lot of things you still need us for!
10.15.2008 1:09pm
Cold Warrior:
Maybe it's just me, but at least in federal House and Presidential elections this has always bothered me:

-- seats/electors are apportioned according to state population. That includes those of voting age, minors (and even aliens) -- people who do not have the right to vote

-- setting aside the alien count for a moment, let's focus just on the adult:minor citizen ratio. Wouldn't the better formula be apportionment based on valid voting age population? As things stand, Utah is overweighted in representation in the House (and in the number of electors). An adult Utahn's vote counts for more than an adult Floridian's vote. The Utah adult is exercising a proxy vote for his 2.4 (or whatever it is) kids, while the Floridian is exercising a proxy vote for his 0.9 kids.

Some of the problem could be addressed by lowering the voting age. If it were lowered to 16, we'd solve 1/9 of the problem ... not much, but better than the current situation?
10.15.2008 1:09pm
Ilya Somin:
Really! Well you should have no problem with children voting them. After all, they too "would use their own opinions in whom to vote for and for what reasons and no one has a right to question that."



No, Ilya. Children haven't got fully functional brains.


I'd love to see a relevant definition of "fully functional" (relevant to political decisions, that is), that excludes highly knowledgeable children, but not ignorant adults.
10.15.2008 1:13pm
Cornellian (mail):
An infant is obviously incapable of voting. An 18 year old already can vote. One can make arguments about whether the age should be lower, say 16 or 17, but the idea of a sort of mental "means test" to determing eligibility to vote is totally unworkable. We'd be stuck in a permanent state of arguing about the content of the test, appealing "Fail" grades, claiming the test unfairly disadvantaged poor people, suffering the avalanche of "we'll teach your kids to ace the VAT! ads" (Voter Aptitude Test) etc. This is one of those cases where a bright line rule is the only practicable approach.
10.15.2008 1:16pm
MisterBigTop (mail):
Eh, I don't know. Young people have no perspective. There is no way from them to understand what 20/30/40/X years is really like. But putting that concern aside, I think one thing that almost everyone would agree with is the idea that elections are about more than just debating the issues. Even if one concerns himself only with his pet issues, it's important to select a politician who isn't claiming to be something that he is not just to get your vote. You can't really learn how to read someone from a book. That takes life experience.
10.15.2008 1:17pm
DrGrishka (mail):
Why not subject adults to the same requirements of knowledge? (I know, I know, literacy tests have a sordid history, but assuming that they can be fairly administered, I don't see why people who cannot even understand who they are voting for should be able to vote, irrespective of whether they are adults or children).

As a practical matter, I think Miss May is wrong. Child voting will be a boon to conservatives who traditionally have larger families. If children as young as 5 can vote, it is more than likely that they will vote the way their parents will tell them. And given that conservatives will have more of these essentially "proxy" votes, it will benefit them, not the Green candidates.
10.15.2008 1:19pm
pete (mail) (www):

No, Ilya. Children haven't got fully functional brains


The legal definiton of child (generally someone under the age of 18) is completely arbitrary and that is part of the problem with statements like the above. Nothing special happens to your brain on your 18th birthday to make it fully functional. But for convenience sake we pretend like it does.

Now this leads to lots of individual problems and injustices since their is a wide variance in maturity, intelligence, and moral reasoning among people in the 13-25 age range with some 14 year olds being more deserving of a vote and other rights we let adults exercise than some 25 year olds. But it is too big of a hassle to not pretend otherwise most of the time.
10.15.2008 1:24pm
Dan Schmutter:
Ilya -


If you do have that kind of knowledge about the effects of policy, it's not clear why you would also need personal experience with bills, taxes, etc., as well in order to be an informed voter.


Because a high school freshman who has written a paper for class on poverty may have certain knowledge that exceeds that of most adults, but he cannot be expected to really appreciate that social programs increase his tax bill. Even if he knows it academically, he cannot really appreciate it until he sees it deducted from the paycheck he relies on to pay the rent or his mortgage.

All sorts of life experiece helps process information in a more meaningful way.


Moreover, of course, there are plenty of adults who lack some or all these experiences.


This is why I said that age is a rough proxy for maturity and life experience. Though life experience and maturity vary greatly among adults, as a group, children are categorically more likely to lack these on a large scale.

Thus, we have a bright line rule which excludes them from the franchise. That is not to say that the current line is the right one, but it makes sense to exclude a category of people that are inherently and systematically different is this important way.

Dan Schmutter
10.15.2008 1:24pm
A Law Dawg:
I do not know about that. I liked some of my teachers, but disagreed with many of their politics and none of the nerds and geeks I hung out with worshipped their teachers like you seem to think.


It is shockingly easy for teachers to mold the minds of high-schoolers when it comes to politics, *especially* the bright kids.

I know because I did it before going to law school.

The trick is to either A) hit them with something highly provocative that holds their attention or B) convince them that what you're telling them is hidden knowledge or something that will get the teacher in trouble for saying.
10.15.2008 1:28pm
Joby Walker (mail):
What secret ballot? In Oregon, and almost entirely in Washington (State), there is no secret ballot. Elections are held via mail-in ballots. There is nothing to prevent undue influence from any source. Of course, this also impacts the votes of adults as well, but most likely to a lesser degree.
10.15.2008 1:29pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
In college, I spent a year and a half as a fraternity grad adviser, after spending three years in that same fraternity as an undergrad.
That meant in as little as four and a half years, I saw proposed by the younger guys schemes that hadn't worked when us old farts tried them. The response to the wisdom of the ages was, invariably, "It will be different this time."
Point is, I needed/had time to experience this. Experience it. See it. See it fail again. Understand it viscerally.
No time, no experience.
IMO, probably the most important thing a voter can learn is that, when somebody says "It will be different this time," the stuff is about to hit the fan.

And you don't learn this by having a high school history book which spends more time on Marilyn Monroe than on George Washington. And a poster on another blog recounted that his kindergarten daughter came home and announced that when MLK was shot, the white people were happy.
It takes time to heal from public education, especially when they start in on the kids so young.
10.15.2008 1:29pm
A Law Dawg:
Because a high school freshman who has written a paper for class on poverty may have certain knowledge that exceeds that of most adults, but he cannot be expected to really appreciate that social programs increase his tax bill. Even if he knows it academically, he cannot really appreciate it until he sees it deducted from the paycheck he relies on to pay the rent or his mortgage.

All sorts of life experiece helps process information in a more meaningful way.


Does this mean I can't give implied consent to a surgery unless I have witnessed the surgery firsthand?
10.15.2008 1:29pm
PLR:
5) No one with an earned doctoral degree shall ever vote;

Great idea! (You did mean to include J.D.s, didn't you?)

Most lawyers don't consider their J.D. degrees to be doctorates, whether or not they are aware that the degree was once called an LL.B.
10.15.2008 1:30pm
A Law Dawg:
And a poster on another blog recounted that his kindergarten daughter came home and announced that when MLK was shot, the white people were happy.


I am sorry to say that there is some truth to the statement, as I have had it confessed to me by some of those very white people. Mostly in-laws.

Yes, I and they live in the South.

However I agree that it's pernicious to generalize the sentiment.
10.15.2008 1:32pm
Skyler (mail) (www):

I'd love to see a relevant definition of "fully functional" (relevant to political decisions, that is), that excludes highly knowledgeable children, but not ignorant adults.



The difference is this, Ilya: Ignorance is none of your business to define when it comes to voting.

This is a classic example of an academician putting out absurd ideas, couching them in educated prose, and getting a kick out of the reactions.

Most of us who are only in academic institutions for the purpose of getting back out of them see such stunts as a reason to distrust and fear academicians when they seek to influence the real world.
10.15.2008 1:35pm
Kate S (mail):
Another angle. How about the fact that until you are 18 in most states you cannot be legally held to a contract and if you commit a felony it can be wiped from your record when you become an adult (except for some egregious crimes where they agree to try you as an adult). Opening the vote to minors would be the equivalent of opening the polls to vote fraud with no threat of any criminal liability for violating the rules. Agreed that there is small threat of that now but what is to prevent ACORN from signing up twelve year olds in multiple states where the outcome could be affected by a few thousand votes?
I personally would be in favor of going back to the system where the senators are appointed by the governor of the state and only the house members are elected. Also people who do not pay taxes should have no vote on tax issues.
10.15.2008 1:36pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Sure, why not? But make sure you include them in the list of huntable game, with no bag limits.
10.15.2008 1:41pm
Ilya Somin:
I'd love to see a relevant definition of "fully functional" (relevant to political decisions, that is), that excludes highly knowledgeable children, but not ignorant adults.



The difference is this, Ilya: Ignorance is none of your business to define when it comes to voting.


But of course defining "functionality" is your business. And you still haven't done it.

Let me put things another way: It is most certainly my business, and that of anyone who concerned about the future of democracy, to consider issues related to how voting decisions are made. Ignorant voters help make policy for everyone, not just themselves. Therefore, their ignorance is very much my business.
10.15.2008 1:42pm
A.S.:
I said it should be the "political knowledge equivalent" of the citizenship test. Not that it should be the citizenship test itself. Obviously, a political knowledge test should ask relevant questions about the structure of government, public policy issues, and so on.

The citizenship test does ask "political knowledge" questions. Such as how many representatives are in Congress, or who has the power to declare war. (If Ilya disagrees, maybe he could give some examples of questions on a political knowledge test.)

I don't see how answering these questions correctly gives much of an indication of one's ability to weigh "complex, large-scale policy issues".

And this, of course, provides no response to the problem that a condidate's stand on "issues" is only one characteristic on which people vote. Answering correctly the political knowledge test certainly gives no evidence as to a person's ability to weigh all the other characteristics on which he or she votes.
10.15.2008 1:43pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
Sorry to be late to the party. I agree with Dan Schmutter's arguments, but have another to add. Giving children the right to vote basically means that parents get more votes than non-parents. This means that rather than enhance the democratic system, it undermines it. For every example of a clever 16 year old who makes up his own mind and votes independently of his parents, I would think there'd be several more 12 year olds voting their parents' preferences. As several people upthread have noted, no matter where you draw the line, people whose birthday are the following week will have good reason to resent it, but that's not an argument against the existence of the line. The same problem besets students with a 58 average. Should we declare that everone gets a passing grade? We can disagree about whether to have the age be 18, 19, 17, or whatever, but there needs to be one, and reasonably old, or else you're giving multiple votes to parents. That's undemocratic.
10.15.2008 1:45pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Law Dog.
I hope we can agree that, even if expertly nuanced and specified, kindergarten is not the place to start?

I have a friend who has a special needs child, now about twenty-five. It's a convoluted neurological issue, so it's not like getting a brace for a bum leg. At one point, she and the youngster went to a hospital for a six-week diagnostic procedure. The theory was the staff would modify meds and watch behavior in order to decide what, exactly, was the problem. Mom was not allowed to have much to do at all with the kid, in order to reduce variables. So, basically, she sat for six weeks. Despite being extremely bright, an active advocate whose notes on behavior and meds were sought by physicians in the field, she came home a different person.
She had, in six weeks, lost her decisiveness and initiative. Her husband had purchased Christmas presents for the family and asked her, upon her return, to wrap and mail them. The decisions necessary were almost insurmountable. She, having a solid base of a personality, recovered.
It is hard, looking at poverty programs, not to think of this process.
There is little a person receiving assistance can do on his or her own to either improve or ruin the situation, short of being caught committing honest employment. Those who make serious improvements do so despite the infantilizing effects of being in the world of assistance.
So a kid writing a paper on poverty learns this how?
10.15.2008 1:45pm
Ilya Somin:
Giving children the right to vote basically means that parents get more votes than non-parents. This means that rather than enhance the democratic system, it undermines it. For every example of a clever 16 year old who makes up his own mind and votes independently of his parents, I would think there'd be several more 12 year olds voting their parents' preferences.

See my comment about parental influence in the original post. Moreover, doesn't this point apply with equal force to 1) people who continue to be influenced by their parents as adults, 2) people who vote as their spouses want them, and 3) anyone who votes based on what he is told by some opinion leader he trusts. Being influenced by the preferences of others, even very heavily influenced, doesn't in itself invalidate one's claims to the franchises.
10.15.2008 1:49pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Ilya. The point is that parents get to vote through their kids and non-parents don't. I'm not sure that's a big deal, but you missed addressing it. All the other influences are, probably, equally spread among those lacking children and those lacking parents and those who have matured past undue parental influence. But parents and non-parents are different.
10.15.2008 1:53pm
Daniel San:
A bright-line test, like age is an approximation for many things: brain development, judgment, and life experience come to mind immediately. If knowledge is key, then we would be better off being governed by the Harvard faculty.

The ability to make independent judgment should be key in the ability to vote. That is not measured by tests of knowledge. Our options are to give neuropsych tests or to approximate by using age as our criterion.
10.15.2008 1:53pm
MisterBigTop (mail):
Ilya,

Could you give an example of a question you think would be appropriate on such an exam? There are people who can absorb thousands of facts without having any ability in analysis or logic. I don't see how enfranchising minors who know more facts than some adults is going to help fix our current problem.
10.15.2008 1:59pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
Ilya, I don't mean influenced by their parents, I mean I take my kindergartern into the voting booth and say, now let's vote for this nice man, ok honey? (Her reply: ok daddy! Then we can go home and play with My Little Pony!) Presto, I just got to vote twice.
Also, there's no comparing how a 30-year-old is "influenced" by reading NRO and how a 10-year old, especially in a strict religious community, but also anywhere, is influenced by her parents. Again, if you want to lower it to 17, I won't fight about it, but at some point, you're really giving parents extra votes. And, if my analysis is wrong, all the more reason to take Dan Schmutter's arguments seriously.
10.15.2008 2:01pm
neurodoc:
Damn, where did the time go? It's April Fools Day already?!

Or is this not a calender issue, but rather more extreme libertarian craziness, like approval of "consensual" cannablism?

Really, this let-kids-vote post may represent the greatest disconnect between intellectual capacities and real worldliness ever displayed on this blogsite, moreover by one of the VC. (Can anyone suggest more impressive ones?)
10.15.2008 2:06pm
Ming the Merciless Siamese Cat:
Arguments like this are why law professors should be kept as far away from the actual practice of law as possible. Sheesh!
10.15.2008 2:07pm
JRL:
1. Repeal the prohibition on the poll tax.
2. 1 acre = 1 vote
10.15.2008 2:13pm
Oren:

Yes, but only if each vote is weighed according to the voter's age.

Shouldn't such logic counsel an inverse relationship? After all, the younger a child, the more invested she is in the result. Certainly a 10 year old will pay a larger portion of the ensuing budget deficit than an 80 year old.
10.15.2008 2:17pm
Stosh2 (mail):
I wonder what voting children's position would be toward schools &universities. Judging from the kids I know, you may be talking yourself out of a job.....

I you also implying removing the age limit for office and having "qualified" children candidates? A 15 year old president could be interesting.....
10.15.2008 2:18pm
neurodoc:
P.S.> Also, if it were up to me, I would disenfranchise anybody who was receiving more than 50% of their income from the Government -- whether as an employee, a welfare recipient, a contractor, or whatever.
So that would be just about everyone serving in the military, along with those who earned military pensions? And it would take in all current government (federal only, or state, county and municipal as well?) employees, including NIH scientists, FBI agents, FAA air traffic controllers, USDA food inspectors, CIA, DOJ, DOD, the judiciary, etc., plus a good many retired ones? Those receiving Social Security pensions, if those pensions and other monies received from the government amounted to more than 50% of their incomes, would be denied the right to vote too? Would interest on government bonds be considered "income from the Government" for these purposes?

But this is April Fool's Day in October, right, and I'm reacting as though such nonsense was meant to be taken seriously.
10.15.2008 2:21pm
Hoosier:
Burkean argument:

We elect a bad enough government with the voters we have. We have no need to expand the franchise to include more incompetent voters.
10.15.2008 2:31pm
Ilya Somin:
We elect a bad enough government with the voters we have. We have no need to expand the franchise to include more incompetent voters.

My point, of course, is that the average competence of voters would go up under this proposal.
10.15.2008 2:35pm
Not Danny Darwin:
If only voters under 30 voted, George W. Bush would NOT be President right now.

/end of thread
10.15.2008 2:35pm
Gil Milbauer (mail) (www):
I heartily endorse Ilya's proposal.

Most of the "arguments" against it above have been indications of The Final Prejudice.
10.15.2008 2:45pm
Al Maviva:
I'd love to see a relevant definition of "fully functional" (relevant to political decisions, that is), that excludes highly knowledgeable children, but not ignorant adults.


There are volumes of books about how adolescents generally suffer from bad judgment. Bad judgment not in the sense of immorality, but bad judgment in the sense that hormones cause some problems, lack of life experience causes others, and some are rooted in peer group pressures, the sum total is that it commonly results in the inability of adolescents to assign proper weight to the consequences of their actions; or in some cases to think that they will be able to evade the obvious consequences of their actions.

See e.g. Lightfoot, Cynthia (1997). The Culture of Adolescent Risk-Taking. The Guilford Press. ISBN 978-1572302327.
10.15.2008 2:50pm
Ken Arromdee:
If lack of life experience is not enough to justify exclusion of even the most ignorant adults from the franchise, I don't see why it should be considered sufficient to exclude vastly more knowledgeable minors.

Lack of life experience ''should'' disqualify adults as well as children. The reason we don't exclude ignorant adults is practical; it's much easier to use an easily determined line like "age 18" than to create and administer a fair test for life experience, even though the test is necessarily imperfect and will allow votes from people whom we don't really want to vote.

The fact that the test is imperfect and lets through a few people without the experience to vote competently doesn't mean that that's a good thing, nor does it mean that we should allow voting by a group which consists largely of such people.
10.15.2008 2:52pm
Piano_JAM (mail):
P.S.> Also, if it were up to me, I would disenfranchise anybody who was receiving more than 50% of their income from the Government -- whether as an employee, a welfare recipient, a contractor, or whatever.
So that would be just about everyone serving in the military, along with those who earned military pensions? And it would take in all current government (federal only, or state, county and municipal as well?) employees, including NIH scientists, FBI agents, FAA air traffic controllers, USDA food inspectors, CIA, DOJ, DOD, the judiciary, etc., plus a good many retired ones? Those receiving Social Security pensions, if those pensions and other monies received from the government amounted to more than 50% of their incomes, would be denied the right to vote too? Would interest on government bonds be considered "income from the Government" for these purposes?

But this is April Fool's Day in October, right, and I'm reacting as though such nonsense was meant to be taken seriously.


This list needs to be modified to remove those government functions which are in the Constitution. So we leave NIH scientists, Soc Security, Dept of Education, Welfare,unemployment, etc. on the list of non-voters. State employees cannot vote for statewide offices, county employees cannot vote for county offices.

Defensed and Judiciary are defined in the Constitution as federal roles, so workers of those should be allowed.

You have NO RIGHT TO VOTE!!! I repeat NO RIGHT TO VOTE. Voting is a privelege, not a right.
10.15.2008 2:58pm
Ilya Somin:
I'd love to see a relevant definition of "fully functional" (relevant to political decisions, that is), that excludes highly knowledgeable children, but not ignorant adults.


There are volumes of books about how adolescents generally suffer from bad judgment. Bad judgment not in the sense of immorality, but bad judgment in the sense that hormones cause some problems, lack of life experience causes others, and some are rooted in peer group pressures, the sum total is that it commonly results in the inability of adolescents to assign proper weight to the consequences of their actions; or in some cases to think that they will be able to evade the obvious consequences of their actions.



True, but lots of adults also have bad judgment, sometimes for genetic reasons or other reasons that we can predict with considerable precision. And adults too are vulnerable to peer pressure and often fail to understand the obvious conseqauences of their actions. Yet we do not deny these adults the franchise - even if they are also ignorant to boot.
10.15.2008 3:00pm
Skyler (mail) (www):

My point, of course, is that the average competence of voters would go up under this proposal.


It would be nice to imagine a world where people must meet certain credentials of competence to vote, but such a world is not real, and wistfully dreaming of such a world is the sign of someone who is not to be taken seriously.

Any attempt to measure competence can only result in a corrupted standard by which to measure.

Either we set an age limit or we will have armies of lawyers attempting to define "competence." Such a scheme will be bad for everyone, except for those lawyers in the short term.

This reminds me of my first year tort class where the professor always said "cha ching," mimicking an old cash register, whenever the word "reasonable" was used in a case.
10.15.2008 3:03pm
roy:
A child will vote for whichever candidate promises more candy. Adults will hold out for a pony.
10.15.2008 3:08pm
KeithK (mail):
If it's reasonable to predicate the right to vote on passing a test of political knowledge then why couldn't we do this for adults? Surely the electorate would be better off if the adults voting all understood the process as well as the kids.
10.15.2008 3:09pm
Jay Myers:

Once the knowledge objection is off the table, all the arguments for giving adults the right to vote also apply to sufficiently knowledgeable children.

For goodness sake, Ilya, any developmental psychologist could tell you that it is a matter of judgment, not knowledge. Even in the late teens the prefrontal cortex and white matter is still woefully underdeveloped resulting in poor impulse control, long-range planning, and ability to discern falsehood. Does that sound like a description of a sound voter?
10.15.2008 3:21pm
c.gray (mail):

the sum total is that it commonly results in the inability of adolescents to assign proper weight to the consequences of their actions; or in some cases to think that they will be able to evade the obvious consequences of their actions.


Actually, the trend of recent research demonstrates that this common presumption, which accords with the traditional prejudices of the old against the young, is flat out wrong.

Research pretty consistently shows that adolescents do not underestimate the risks associated with their behavior. They actually tend to greatly overestimate both the near term and long term risks of their behavior ... but then pursue whatever dangerous short-term pleasure is right in front of them anyway.

The problem isn't their perception of risk, it's in their perception of opportunity cost. It's impatience, not a lack of information or experience. A horny teen might actually believe that sex today will result in a terrible STD tomorrow and death the day after that. But then would discount tomorrow's inevitable result as "far into the future" and that of two days from now as equivalent to forever in the future.
10.15.2008 3:23pm
Hoosier:
Ilya: My point, of course, is that the average competence of voters would go up under this proposal.

I give you Burkean wisdom, and you seek to rebut me with a theory? No wonder the Rt. Hon. Gentleman asceded Mt. Zion and was raised bodily into Heaven in the arms of angels. Or whatever happened to him. He couldn't take it here any longer.
10.15.2008 3:25pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
c.gray.
That may be a distinction without a difference, at least as regards the subject of the post.
10.15.2008 3:30pm
A.S.:
Ilya writes: My point, of course, is that the average competence of voters would go up under this proposal.

This is further to his point in the original post: 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.

Now, even if we accept Ilya's contention that the only factor to be used in determining who is competent to vote is "basic political knowledge" (which I think is quite wrong, but let's assume it arguendo), he has not given us any evidence that his proposal would lead to an increase in the "average competence of voters".

Obviously, the average competence level can only increase if the new voters permitted under Ilya's proposal are of higher competence that the current average voter. But does Ilya's proposed test of basic political knowledge indicate which children have higher political knowledge than the average current voter? Based on the citizenship example given, I wouldn't think so.

Now, this is solveable, of course. We could write a more difficult test. Or we could provide that a passing grade for children taking the test is somewhere in excess of how the average voter would do on the test (perhaps a sample of voters could provide us with an average). But Ilya doesn't flesh out his proposal enough for us to know whether average voter compentence would increase or decrease (even, again, accepting arguendo that passing a basic political knowledge quiz is the sole factor to be used in determining who is competent to vote ).
10.15.2008 3:31pm
David Warner:
I'm with Ilya. No taxation without representation. Since its borrow and spend for as far as the eye can see, I guess that means representation or revolt, and kids are revolting enough these days as it is. Not really. I agree with Ilya that they're likely more informed.

Actually, if the NEA hadn't gone over to the dark side in the 1930's, child suffrage would already be a done deal.
10.15.2008 3:44pm
Not Danny Darwin:

You have NO RIGHT TO VOTE!!! I repeat NO RIGHT TO VOTE. Voting is a privelege, not a right.



1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

2. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

3. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

4. The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

Someone didn't read the Constitution.
10.15.2008 3:51pm
A Law Dawg:
NDD I think he is pointing out that nothing in the Constitution actually says "You have the Right to Vote."

9th Amendment notwithstanding.
10.15.2008 3:57pm
Ken Arromdee:
True, but lots of adults also have bad judgment... Yet we do not deny these adults the franchise.

As I pointed out, that's a bug, not a feature. It's like saying that since we're okay with not being able to catch every single bank robber, there's nothing wrong with promoting bank robbery. After all, we find bank robbery acceptable...

We don't accept bank robbery. We accept a system that allows for some bank robbery, but not because we accept bank robbery. Rather, we accept it because the alternative (say, locking everyone up from birth to death) would stop all bank robbery, but be much worse in other ways.

Likewise, we don't accept the idea of adults with bad judgment voting, we just let them vote because stopping them would mean creating a system that has much worse problems.
10.15.2008 4:00pm
Ken Arromdee:
Also, if it were up to me, I would disenfranchise anybody who was receiving more than 50% of their income from the Government

That's okay with me as long as they can't be arrested or sued (or punished in a way which would currently require an arrest or a lawsuit). After all, police and courts are government functions, in this case government functions that can harm them to the benefit of other people who actually do get to vote.
10.15.2008 4:04pm
Kenvee:

If only voters under 30 voted, George W. Bush would NOT be President right now.

/end of thread


Maybe, but I don't think Hannah Montana would be much of an improvement.
10.15.2008 4:35pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
Juveniles can't be prosecuted for election fraud. Why allow them to stuff ballot boxes with impunity?

Fortunately I won't have to worry about it in my lifetime.
10.15.2008 4:43pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
Ken:

I cross posted with you. I guess we were thinking along the same lines.
10.15.2008 4:44pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Kenvee.
The flower girl at my daughter's wedding is a bright, self-possessed, well-informed young girl of six. She was doing her fourth wedding as a favor to us. On the dance floor, she has more moves than John Travolta. I asked her a couple of questions about various things and was astounded at her level of knowledge.

So when I asked her mom about a theme for a present, I was told that Hannah Montana gear would be just the thing. I think she could be coached to pass any conceivable test Ilya would design in about a quarter of an hour. But if Hannah Montana were on the ballot....

Jeez. I can picture a bunch of pre-pubescents texting away. In working with such, off and on, I can say they're smarter than we think. It's just that their attention span precludes them from finishing some of their projects. But if they are reinforcing each other about a write in for their favorite person in the whole world....

Question: If Hannah Montana gets a huge number of write-ins, does Miley Cyrus get elected? Age notwithstanding, of course.

Yeah. I hold out for judgment tempered with life experience and age is the only conceivable proxy.
10.15.2008 4:47pm
Not Saracuda:
From the bastion of political informed-ness, Howard Stern's Sirius bit has been getting alot of play. He sent some "reporter" from his show onto the streets to survey voters. The excerpts I heard were only directed toward Obama supporters.

The "reporter" asked Obama supporters whether they:

1) Supported Obama because he was prolife--or--because he wanted to keep all the troops in Iraq.

2) If they were okay with Sarah Palin being VP --if it was good that OBAMA ADDED HER TO HIS TICKET.

Of course the ensuing comedy resulted in not a few, but several Obama supporters respnding nonsensically in the affirmative to these.

Not our (society's) finest hour.
10.15.2008 4:47pm
MarkField (mail):
NDD, take a look at McPherson v. Blacker.
10.15.2008 4:47pm
David Warner:
As for the supposed horrors of the Hannah Montana vote, Neal Stephenson dissents somewhat.
10.15.2008 4:53pm
Pragmatist:
There should be a test for any citizen, regardless of age, in order to be qualified to vote. My preferred test is simple:

Who do you want to be president? ____________________

If they cannot clearly and correctly write the full name of a qualifying citizen then they fail and the vote is thrown away.
10.15.2008 5:01pm
c.gray (mail):

That may be a distinction without a difference, at least as regards the subject of the post.



I dunno.

I think there is actually a big difference between claiming a class should be denied the franchise because it's members are ignorant, and claiming it ought to be denied because the class members tend to weight future outcomes as less important than current voters.

If you accept the premise that political ignorance is pervasive and ordinary among adult voters, it's obviously difficult to justify denying the franchise to teens by claiming they don't understand politics. Neither do the adults.

OTOH, if you value things with a long time horizon to give payoffs like social stability, capital investment, pension funds, etc....denying the vote to teens still makes pretty good sense.
10.15.2008 5:55pm
JPG:
There should be a test for any citizen, regardless of age, in order to be qualified to vote.

There's one already:

Are you a felon? Yes ___ No ___
10.15.2008 6:11pm
Pragmatist:
That test only applies in about a dozen states. Besides, it's not fair to just deny the right to vote to felons because most of them should have been executed instead of released.
10.15.2008 6:24pm
E. Wong (mail) (www):
What's interesting about this discussion is that it is based on improving the "average knowledge" of the electorate, which would presumably lead to better "quality of political decision-making." This is a very common-sense way to defend a proposal to change the structure of the electorate, but does it ultimately make sense within the framework of democracy? More broadly, does is ever make sense, in a democracy, to institute electoral changes in an effort to get a better outcome? I mean, if we wanted a better outcome, and if we believed that knowledgeable decision-makers would help get us there, wouldn't we scrap democracy altogether and go for some flavor of a technocracy?
10.15.2008 7:05pm
Seamus (mail):
Most lawyers don't consider their J.D. degrees to be doctorates, whether or not they are aware that the degree was once called an LL.B.

I agree that it's a joke to call a law degree a doctorate, but they gave me a doctoral hood at my graduation, so the university seems to consider it a serious doctorate. But then again, they also give doctoral hoods to Ed.D.s, which is perhaps even more of a joke.
10.15.2008 7:54pm
Seamus (mail):
Whoa whoa whoa! Government employees shouldn't be allowed to vote? Aren't government employees even more affected by many changes in government policy than the average taxpayer, and thus have a signficant interest in who is elected?

Absolutely. And that's why they (and government contractors, and people getting veterans' pensions, etc.) shouldn't be allowed to vote--because of the danger they will use that vote to further their "signficant interest" in siphoning money out of my pocket and into theirs.
10.15.2008 7:58pm
Seamus (mail):
For every example of a clever 16 year old who makes up his own mind and votes independently of his parents, I would think there'd be several more 12 year olds voting their parents' preferences.

I have a clever 13-year old who makes up her own mind and would vote independently of her parents. Fortunately, the conclusions she arrives at are pretty much the ones her parents have arrived at, though her libertarianism is perhaps even more rabid than ours. One point on which she agrees with us, though, is that giving the vote to most teenagers would be like giving car keys and whisky together. (Well, maybe not whisky. A lot of teenagers haven't developed the taste for it. Let's say grain alcohol punch instead.)
10.15.2008 8:04pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
C.gray.
distinction, differernce
I was referring to the point that not understanding risk versus taking known, crazy risks due to a short time horizon or ignorance of opportunity costs may have identical outcomes.
10.15.2008 8:14pm
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
10.15.2008 11:50pm
Opher Banarie (mail) (www):
I think what this thread is condensing into is an argument/discussion about how to determine if a person is qualified to vote. Since such tests are not allowed under our system, is there value to this?

Or are some interested in arguing that such tests should be applied to people of certain categories (namely age)? In that case, isn't there a slippery slope to testing based on gender and race, economic class, educational background, hair color, etc.?

And, along the way, would be all the legal challenges to who defines the test, who grades the test, who identifies the required scores, etc. This would never end...why start?
10.16.2008 2:30am
CatCube:
As somebody who likely could have passed this theoretical test back when I was sixteen (I've always done well on standardized tests) that anybody could think that this is a good idea just baffles me. I was never a troublemaker, didn't drink until I was 21, and have never done drugs in my life, and my younger self was too immature to vote. I look back at some of the opinions I held and can't help but wonder, "What the hell was I thinking when I came to that conclusion?"
10.16.2008 4:08am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Please identify this mythical welfare queen. Under President Clinton's 1996 welfare reform program, there is a 5-year lifetime limit on receiving welfare. If this woman went on welfare at age 21, she used up her lifetime quota at 26. What has she lived on since?
Uh, perhaps welfare? First, you're simply wrong; the states were only required to limit 80% of their caseload to 5 years, on the theory that the bottom 20% of the welfare population was pretty much a lost cause.

Second, you're only referring to one program, TANF, and not the many other welfare programs run by the federal government, such as food stamps and Section 8 vouchers.

Third, you're ignoring pseudo-welfare programs, such as SSDI. If you go on SSDI at 21, you can stay there forever.
10.16.2008 5:22am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
David.
Correct, if ungentlemanly.

There was no such limit when Reagan either said or was falsely accused of saying--I have no idea--anything about welfare queens. And they actually existed, as they do now. I don't know that they would be said to live like queens, except most queens throughout history haven't had indoor plumbing.
I recall an article in a Detroit paper about, which is to say lauding, a three-generation family which included no men and no employment. The tone of the article was that this was a pretty good idea, men being annoying and employment inconvenient.
Clinton managed to co-opt the republicans' ideas of welfare reform, but however it got done, it was a good idea. Still, the resources are there for welfare for life.
10.16.2008 9:20am
Kenvee:
Seamus

Absolutely. And that's why they (and government contractors, and people getting veterans' pensions, etc.) shouldn't be allowed to vote--because of the danger they will use that vote to further their "signficant interest" in siphoning money out of my pocket and into theirs.


Right. So parents shouldn't be allowed to vote on education matters, because of the risk that they'll use their vote to further their significant interest in their children's education by siphoning money out of other taxpayer's pockets and into theirs, via the schools? Basically no one with an interest in a matter should be permitted to vote. That's going to lead to fantastic laws, absolutely.
10.16.2008 10:34am
FWB (mail):
Ok, lets let the children vote.

The brains of humans from around 16-17 to around 23-25 are dysfunctional as the neural connections of the youth brain dissolve and the adult neural network forms. Scientific studies indicate that during this time period the human brain often misfires, failing to function in a wholly logical manner. So, should not persons between 16 and 25 be excluded from voting because their brains are dysfunctional?
10.17.2008 11:51am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
FWB. If what you say is true, that's exactly the wrong age to expose them to professors.
10.17.2008 12:27pm
Jim M (mail):
Where are you going to draw the line? What age? At least, at 18, the vast majority should have completed high school and are legally able to enter into contracts. If you change the voting age, what are you changing next. Where to do you move it? 14? 12? 10? 6?

It's bad enough that political advertising has made it into video games. Just imagine what we would have to deal with if the voting age was lower. Just think of what would be Saturday morning cartoons(considering they are almost all advertising now anyways). The Obama Mysteries? The McCainiacs?

Do we really need to add this to the pressure of being a kid in today's society? Besides, at least with kids not voting you can use schools as polling places. It might make that more difficult if you want to hold to the no-campaigning zones. Not to mention getting a kid to the right precinct. Plus, just imagine the fun of an 80 year poll worker trying to explain how to vote to a ten year old(then again, the 10 year old might be able to understand the technology better than the 80 year old. Maybe we should get the kids to run the polls while the adults vote.)
10.19.2008 12:31am