Age limits on voting rights affect government: comparing upper and lower limits

After writing my last post that continued to argue for an upper age limit for voting rights, I was reminded of recent arguments to change the minimum voting age either to extend the franchise to younger people (as young as 16) or to restrict it older ages (as old as 30).

This opinion piece makes a case of extending the voting rights to age 16.

Cold cognition is relevant to matters such as voting or granting informed consent for medical procedures, for example. Adolescents can gather evidence, consult with others and take time before making a decision. Adolescents may make bad choices, but statistically speaking, they won’t make them any more often than adults.

Another opinion piece makes a case for restricting the voting age to start at 28 (for UK at least).

Actually, there’s a much better argument for raising the voting age – I think 28 would be about right, as by then most people have at least some experience of the important things of life, especially paying tax and taking responsibility for children . The supposed ‘idealism’ that people praise in the young is almost always idealism at someone else’s expense.

I recall seeing similar recommendation to raise the minimum voting age in US to as high as 30 using similar arguments plus arguments about supposed neurological maturity not completing until late 20s.

Judging from the hits I received searching for examples on Google, there is not much popularity for this topic.  It seems most people are generally comfortable with the current voting ages.

However, as I noted in recent posts, adjusting the voting age can have a dramatic effect on government by defining the pool of voters that can determine elections.   A broader pool can allow for different ideologies to go after separate subgroups.    The continued debate on voting ages is important because it can have a major impact on the resulting government.   In my earlier posts, I was most interested in correcting a recent problem of an aging voting population causing a diminished voice for younger adults compared to earlier times when the overall population was much younger.   I argued that democracy’s success may depend on a young electorate who will face most of the burdens for executing policies from the resulting government.   With lengthening lifespans and healthier lives of older people, the electorate is being skewed to older people who still depend on younger people to do the heavy lifting of government.

As a result, I agree with the above arguments that the nature of government depends on the age limits of the voters.   I argue instead that we should cap the max age for voting in order to give a stronger voice to younger people.

I am not as concerned about arguments that younger people are not as experienced with life or may not be as well-informed of policies.   This did not appear to be true at the time of the country’s founding.   Young people are capable of learning relevant information to make informed decisions for elections.   I agree with the first article that claims that people as young as 16 can make decisions as well as much older adults.   On the other hand, I’m less convinced that older adults, even those with established careers and families are smarter or wiser.   There are many heads of households or even business managers that do not appear to be very well informed when it comes to issues involving elections, especially national elections.

Although it was 40 years ago, I recall the presidential election when I was 16 years old and I still recall the frustration of not being able to vote.  I don’t think my vote would have been poorly informed given the political environment at the time involving lingering issues about the resolution of the Viet Nam war and the Watergate scandal.   I may not disagree with my choice at the time (I think I wanted Carter to win) but I think I had good reasons for my choice.   Of course, I didn’t vote in that election, but I don’t doubt I was ready to vote.

I like the idea of extending the voting age to 16 at the same time as restricting the age to 55.   This gives a person 4 full decades to participate as a voter.   Also, this helps to increase the number of younger voters that I feel are needed for a healthy democracy.

Both changes are consistent in my approach to make a younger voting population.  As I noted above, I’m not persuaded by the argument that raising the minimum voting age is necessary to obtain a more informed and wiser electorate.   I’m also not concerned by the loss of wisdom and education caused by a low maximum voting age.  I would argue that anyone who is well informed and wise will have ample opportunity to influence others to vote in ways that are consistent with his information and wisdom.  The wise, well-informed person doesn’t need to cast a vote to be represented.   He loses the right of a secret ballot because to persuade others he will have to make his views known publicly.   However, this is also an advantage to the community if in fact he is well informed and has good wisdom.

Certainly casting a vote in a democracy does require some ability to think for oneself and some level of intelligence and wisdom.   I don’t think these need to very high bars.   A reasonably educated 16 year old should be capable of making a good vote.   What really matters in an election is the effect casting a vote has on making a commitment to the government.  If the vote results in a win, the voter will feel some obligation to defend the winning side even if that includes making an extra effort.   Similarly, if the vote goes to a losing candidate, there can be a similar commitment to take up the cause of the opposition with hope of winning in the next cycle.

The most important thing for a democracy is to earn this commitment and engagement in the young adult population.  This is the population that will provide most of the labor to make sure the government succeeds, and in particular to provide the burdens to defend the government from foreign or domestic enemies.   Giving young people both the right to vote and the good chances that their preferences will win in elections is an effective way to earn this commitment.


One thought on “Age limits on voting rights affect government: comparing upper and lower limits

  1. This article describes an initiative in Vermont to extend voting rights to 16 year olds.

    It cites a study that argues that such young people lack the maturity to make voting decisions:

    “The key issue, we claim, is the political maturity of young people,” the study by Mr. Chan and Mr. Clayton states. “Drawing on empirical data collected in nationally representative surveys, we argue that the weight of such evidence suggests that young people are, to a significant degree, politically less mature than older people, and that the voting age should not be lowered to sixteen.”

    I argued above that the primary advantage of extending minimum voting age is to enlist the young people’s commitment to their choices so that they will be more engaged in the political consequences of their votes. The vote gives them a stake in government at the time they are entering adulthood. Maturity is a secondary consideration and besides I think the majority of people at that age have sufficient maturity to sound voting decisions.

    The end of the article brings up the point that we should also consider a maximum age:

    Asked if he believes there should be a maximum voting age established Bowman laughed, saying, “I’m sure not going to say that. However, it would be the corollary question to be asking given that so many older voters are disconnected socially, politically and don’t take advantage of the social media and online political discussions that are currently affecting the world in the same way younger people do today.”

    It references a petition started 3 years ago to argue for a maximum voting age of 55 (the same number I came up with!) but it failed to attract any attention. The petition deserves more serious consideration than it received.

    The two changes complement each other: lowering the minimum to 16 and introducing the maximum to 55 share the same objective of engaging the young (peak years) in self-government.

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