Children’s Bill Of Rights – The Right to Vote

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

The following is part of a series of articles on the rights and responsibilities of children and of families.  On our site, we’ve published a Children’s Bill Of Rights, with all of the sections in the bill.  You can take a look at Children’s Bill of Rights.

(To read additional articles about Children’s Rights and the specific rights recommended in the Children’s Bill of Rights, look through this blog, and at Homeschool Hows & Whys.)

The Right To Vote

Every child of a reasonable age should have the right to vote, and to participate in the politics of their nation as those politics most certainly will change the child’s life.   Every child has the right to self-determined political opinion and suffrage, not to be limited or shaped by family or others. The right to vote should start when the child understands the issues, regardless of age.

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I realize that for many people, this may appear a ludicrous suggestion.  Children, vote?  Their lack of formative experience certainly would seem an argument against such a right. 

Historically the franchise (the right to vote) was always achieved (where available) at a certain age.  I would point out that the acceptable age for having a vote has been different at different times, in different lands and circumstances.  There has never been anything approaching a “universal agreement” as to the age a person should be allowed the vote.  Any assigning of an age to vote is, accordingly, somewhat arbitrary.

Before you howl with laughter, I would ask you to consider what we expect from voters?  There currently is no “test” for voter eligibility in the United States.  Literacy is not required, it is in no way checked for.  Education of any kind is not required.  A command of the spoken language of the nation is not only not required, but ballots are provided in multiple languages. 

In fact, there is no requirement to vote outside of an arbitrary age that one has survived to.  Apparently, the mere fact that one has survived to the select age magically qualifies one to vote.

That seems pretty remarkable, doesn’t it, upon consideration?  Let’s use “21” as the magic number to vote, as an example.  All we expect of that voter is that he, um, has been able to get enough food into him to live to be twenty-one.  That’s it.  His education, his experience, his literacy, his interest in the nation, his common sense could all register on the scale at “zero”.  But he can vote, so long as he’s of age and is a resident.  Oh, and he has to have some way to move the pencil or whatever tool is being used to vote.  And in extreme situations, that can be done for the voter.

That is all we expect of a voter.  And when we complain about the results of elections, what right have we to complain given this fact?

Now, what SHOULD we expect?  That’s a different question with a very different answer.

Personally, I think the requirements to vote should be a higher than they are.  I think that a person who cannot name the candidates should not be allowed to vote in an election.  If a voter can’t even name the candidates, then upon what basis is he making a voter decision?  His decision is uninformed, and is likely and wholly driven by outside forces.  He is voting “party line” rather than for a man or a promised set of actions.  He’s voting with a group like a union, and doing as he is told.  He is voting as others suggest he should.  Or his vote is entirely arbitrary.

Every voter should not only know WHO he is voting for, but also WHY he is voting for that person.  The voter should be informed.  He should know what his candidate of choice at least claims to stand for.  It does not matter who he votes for, only that he knows why he’s making that vote.

How about the vote for issues?  I believe that if a voter cannot, in a few simple sentences, roughly explain an issue and his stance on it, he should not be allowed to vote. It does not matter what his stance is, it only matters that it’s informed and self-motivated.  And how many people of any age can really do that?  I would imagine that only a small percentage of voters could even get close to that standard.  It’s not hard to imagine.

Very few “qualified adults” – qualified because they survived to a certain age – are actually qualified to do what a voter is actually doing, passing judgment on a selection of candidates or issues.  Very few voters involve themselves sufficiently to make what we should demand of our electorate, an informed decision.

So very few “qualified” voters are any more qualified to pass judgment than are our children. 

Make no mistake – that’s what a voter does, right or wrong, informed or not.  They pass judgment.  They are making a judgment which will impact the public good.  As the majority of voters remain rather densely uninformed, we very often see bewildering decisions made by the electorate that seem to have little or no common sense attached to them.  And let’s also understand something about our democratic republic – the founding fathers assumed that the voters would be informed and directly involved in the life of the nation, as they were at the time the Constitution was authored.  They never imagined that millions of uninformed voters would be provided the right to direct the nation.

Another argument made in favor of an age requirement is that, by a certain age, the person is actively involved in the nation’s life.  We imagine that an 18 year-old is more involved in life and in the nation than, say, a 17 year-old.  Why would we imagine such a thing?  There are many 17 year-olds who make it a point to be deeply involved in issues.  They study.  They work to understand the issues and candidates.  Some of them actively campaign for candidates and issues that they believe in. I did it.  And needless to say, most 18 year-olds do nothing of the sort.

Should we not provide such an involved 17 year-olds the vote?  If he’s willing to work at it and make informed decisions, should we not provide some way for him to participate in elections that will most certainly alter the shape of his life?

How about 16 year-olds who do that sort of work?  Or 13 year-olds?  If they make the effort, understand the candidates or issues and come to self-informed decisions, why would we stop them?  Why would we disenfranchise them?  Haven’t they earned the franchise on some level?  Or is it “purchased” with the payment of taxes?  Is the right to vote “bought”?  That is how it was in England, 800 years ago, at the signing of the Magna Carta.  Landowners were given a voice, no one else.  But we’re a republic and a democracy, not a government of the wealthy.  That would seem like a misuse of Capitalism and an abuse of democracy upon investigation, doesn’t it?

We disenfranchise children because we can, because they are children, of course.  And we are dead wrong to do so.

Have adults fared well in managing our nation?  You know the answer is at best qualified.  We are not some shining example of responsibility, not as a group.  But we certainly need and want our children to grow up to become exactly that – a shining example of responsibility.  Yet we limit them in a hundred ways, as if we’re trying to save them from the very responsibility we want them to be able to assume.  Not too bright an approach.

If qualified children had the vote, they would eventually come to see that they had respected and valued voice.  Politicians would start to address children’s issues in order to court their vote. 

And remember, I believe that only qualified children should vote.  I am not above giving children a test to see if they qualify, so long as the test is based on easily available information and is directly associated with candidates or issues at stake.  But I do wonder sometimes if such testing should be age-restricted.  It should be given to nine year-olds if they can take it.  It could also be given to thirty year-olds.

It is a voter’s patriotic duty to render an informed decision.  Any citizen who can do that should be able to vote.  Age should not be the determining factor. A willingness to understand the issues should be.  By that definition, we’re would see many adults disenfranchised.  And we’d see many “children” have a say in their own future for the first time in history.

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