Let qualified under 18s vote?

Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy:

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.

I’m not in favour of change the general age of voting below 18.

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.

I think there is some merit to this argument. Don’t lower the , but allow under 18s to prove they are knowledgeable enough to vote if they wish to.

Finally, it’s worth noting the commonality this post and my last one, in which I urged adult voters to consider not voting on issues they know little or nothing about. Knowledge, not age, should be the main qualification for exercising political power at the ballot box. We may understandably shy away from giving government the power to use knowledge tests to narrow the franchise. But it’s much tougher to argue against using them to expand it.

It would be nice if only the non-ignorant voted, on a voluntary basis.

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