I’ve always found it interesting that our society denies children the vote even though they’re the ones with the most at stake in our elections. After all, they have the longest left to live.
Never has extending the vote to children made more sense than it does today. The American electorate is old and getting older. The average American voter is around 50 (depending on the election), and in the 2010 midterm elections, voters aged 60 and older accounted for 34 percent of the electorate (expect that number to increase as the baby boomers enter their golden years). The disproportionate political power of the old helps explain why we have a welfare system that redistributes money not from the rich to the poor but from the young to the old, why the California state government spends more on prisons than it does on higher education and why our politicians are so afraid of seriously addressing the debt crisis, which is being driven by rising Medicare costs.
Extending the franchise to children would correct the political imbalance between the old and the young and — hopefully — help solve the problems that imbalance has created.
It’s not as crazy as it sounds. The average 12-year-old, fresh out of a fifth-grade civics class, probably knows about as much about the American political system as the average 82-year-old, especially when you consider the latest research into the effects that aging has on mental processes. Yet we would never consider stripping the elderly of their voting rights.
Sure, children are by and large immature and uninformed about politics. But the same can be said about most adults (have you ever read Internet comments?). One of the great things about democracy is that ignorance tends to cancel itself out — because, theoretically at least, in a two-party system there should be about as many ignorant people who vote for one party as there are who vote for the other. Moreover, children would pay more attention to politics if they had influence over it.
I frankly see little downside in enfranchising children. Government could hardly become less efficient than it already is, and in all likelihood most children would just support the parties and candidates their parents support. This would effectively give young parents additional political influence, which would be the best of both worlds — thirtysomethings are both old enough to be relatively informed about politics and young enough to have a stake in reining in entitlement costs.
Plus, if children were given the vote, perhaps they would pressure Congress to stop driving up sugar prices.
Contrary to popular belief, enfranchising children wouldn’t require a constitutional amendment. The 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, says that “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.” Notice that it does not say that citizens under the age of 18 are forbidden from voting. Congress could lower the voting age to 11 simply by passing a bill and convincing the president to sign it.
Eleven may or may not be the ideal minimum voting age. I picked it because 11-year-olds are literate and have at least some knowledge of American history and civics — more than, say, a three-year-old — and are sophisticated enough to participate in political debates. Perhaps the ideal age is 12, 10 or even 9.
America has become too fixated on the present and not enough on the future. We need to build a political system (and a culture) that is more future-oriented than the one we have now. No one is more future-oriented than a child.
Peter Tucci is an editor at The Daily Caller.