One vote- One Man?

Numerous proposals abound to extend the right to vote to children of any age. Micah Schwartzman thinks it’s a questionable idea, but stops short of condemning it entirely. He asks:

Place yourself in the original position and ask: if I didn?t know how old I would be when the veil is lifted, what principles of political representation would I favor? One-(adult) person, one vote?

Now, I have always thought this was a silly intellectual exercise. If I didn’t know how old I was, I also wouldn’t know what I thought about a lot of things. When I was younger I thought some things, and now that I’m older (but not that old!) I think some other things. When I’m 30, 40, 50, I’m sure I’ll think some other things. So I’m skeptical about our ability to honestly place ourselves behind a veil of ignorance in such an unfalsifiable enterprise.
Should children be allowed to vote? Schwartzman makes a good argument against “Voting by proxy”– that is, letting parents vote on behalf of their children– but doesn’t really deal with whether we ought to allow children to vote outright. Would 3-year-olds toddle en masse to the booth to support Cookie Monster? It seems unlikely. On the other hand, consider this argument from Richard Posner in a 2001 opinion overturning Indianapolis’s video game ban:

Children have First Amendment rights. This is not merely a matter of pressing the First Amendment to a dryly logical extreme. The murderous fanaticism displayed by young German soldiers in World War II, alumni of the Hitler Jugend, illustrates the danger of allowing government to control the access of children to information and opinion. Now that eighteen-year-olds have the right to vote, it is obvious that they must be allowed the freedom to form their political views on the basis of uncensored speech before they turn eighteen, so that their minds are not a blank when they first exercise the franchise. And since an eighteen-year-old’s right to vote is a right personal to him rather than a right to be exercised on his behalf by his parents, the right of parents to enlist the aid of the state to shield their children from ideas of which the parents disapprove cannot be plenary either. People are unlikely to become well-functioning, independent-minded adults and responsible citizens if they are raised in an intellectual bubble.

Judge Posner’s argument is that children ought to be allowed freedom of conscience before they are allowed freedom of franchise, to ensure that they exercise that franchise intelligently. But consider the difficulties of deciding– whether on a large scale or a small one– when people are “ready” to exercise their right to control the lives of others. In the end, it’s a mess.
I would have been just as good (or as bad) a voter at the age of 16 as at the age of 20. While it makes sense to keep the right to vote the same as the obligation to be tried as an adult, what should we do given how many jurisdictions now try select troublemakers as adults? Maybe we should allow select children the right to vote as well.


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