Let qualified under 18s vote?

November 16th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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 voting age, 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.

Should the voting age be 16?

October 22nd, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Philip Greatrex writes in the NZ Herald:

One of the biggest problems with age-based laws is that they assume the existence of an invisible line that, when crossed, makes that individual smarter, more mature, more capable and more respectable as a person.

Yep hey are a problem. But it is not an assumption that (for example) at 17 years 364 days you can not be trusted to purchase alcohol, and the next day you can. It is just the simple reality that an age restriction is a poor proxy for competence – but is simple to understand and administer.

If you don’t want age based laws, then let us have competency testing. You could argue that anyone should be able to apply for a driver’s license if they can pass the theory and practical tests.

If you don’t want an age restriction for voting, then bring in a competency test.

Teenagers, upon turning 18, do not suddenly gain more political knowledge or understanding; chances are they have about the same amount they had when they were 16, given most 18-year-olds haven’t yet left school.

But with a voting age of 18, hundreds of thousands of people are being deprived of having their say in the way their country is run.

And same for a voting age of 16 or 15 or 14. All ages can be arbitrary. The argument Philip needs to make is why 16 is a more justifiable arbitrary age than 18.

For my 2c I think 18 has more arguments in favour of it, even putting aside the consistency issue. I think 18 is the age at which most people finish up full-time secondary study.  I don’t think that many people under 18 follow or care about politics. The fact that 18 to 25 year olds have an appallingly low voting turnout doesn’t suggest that those even younger are wanting to vote. Sure of course some want to – I would have liked to have voted at eight. But 16 is just as arbitrary as 18. Why at 16 are you mature enough but not 15?

In the end I believe in consistency with our age laws. If you want the age of voting to be 16 – fine. But then that should be the age of adulthood for all your rights – to marry without consent, to join the Army, to sign contracts, to be tried as an adult.

What I’d like to happen in New Zealand is for all our age laws to be aligned. For 16 to be the age at which people get partials rights (to drive, to leave school, to marry with consent) and 18 they get their full rights (voting etc). At the moment our ages are all over the place:

  • 10 – can be charged with a murder or manslaughter
  • 12 – can be charged with crime with a maximum penalty of 10 years or more
  • 14 – can be charged with all crimes
  • 16 – can get a drivers licence, leave home, refuse medical treatment, get a tattoo, leave school, get a gun licence, consent to sex,
  • 17 – treated as an adult for crimes, can join armed forces
  • 18 – now an adult without guardians, get married, make a will, buy alcohol, tobacco, get a bank account, gamble,
  • 20 – can find out your birth parents
  • 25 – can adopt

Most rights are 16 or 18. I can’t support a law that says at 16 you can vote but not get a credit card.  If you want a voting age of 16, then make the case for all the adults rights to occur at 16.

Too old to vote?

September 14th, 2011 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Gordon Campbell at Werewolf writes:

If the yet to fully mature brain of the average 16 or 17 year old really did justify withholding the vote until 18, then arguably….the same exclusionary logic should apply at the other end of the age spectrum as well. Yet there is no groundswell for excluding people from voting on cognitive grounds, as their brain function begin to decay. …

None of this directly addresses the question of senile dementia – and here, Barrett offers some sobering statistics. “ A person over 80 has a 20 % likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. It is estimated that by 2050, some 147,000 New Zealanders of a projected population of 4.6 million will suffer from dementia (mostly Alzheimer’s.) ” That is almost the double the projection of 75,000 similar sufferers in 2026, and 3.5 times the 41,000 (in a population of 4.3 million) in 2008.

That marks a significant shift, to numbers that could be politically decisive.

I think this is already a significant issue.

Early research indicates that at the last election, 4.067107% of voters were affected by senile dementia.