Democracy Demands We Let Teenagers Get the Vote

(Bloomberg View) -- I've been advocating for a lower voting age for years now, most recently after the Florida school shooting last month, but we seem to be in an unexpected moment in which the idea has picked up a little momentum -- enough that opponents of the idea are taking it seriously enough to push back some. I'm unimpressed with their arguments. 

Let's see:

Isn't it inconsistent to advocate a higher age for gun ownership and a lower age for voting?

Well, no. We have all sorts of minimum ages currently, some higher and some lower than the 18 at which people get the vote. I don't see any reason we should have a single age of adulthood; nor do I see any reason that voting should be the last thing young adults acquire. 

Young people are inexperienced and, well, not very mature. Wouldn't they make terrible decisions?

Of course they would! Sometimes, at least. Just as older voters make terrible decisions sometimes. We don't have democracy, however, because of the wisdom voters bring to policy decisions, and certainly not for their expertise. We value democracy because it allows people to advocate for their own interests and preferences, whatever they are, and teenagers do in fact have interests and many have preferences. We also value democracy because of the inherent value of self-government. That's something the youngest teenagers might not appreciate, but many can -- as anyone who has watched high schoolers run their own clubs and organizations will know.

No one should be allowed to vote until they've held down a job (or paid the rent or various other claims).

This one varies, but it tends to focus on economic autonomy. It's a slippery slope to the old idea that only property holders should get to vote. Are the perspectives of 16-year-olds (or 14-year-olds) limited? Absolutely. Are the perspectives of those who are 30 or 50 or 70 also limited? Yes, they are. Some of us have been parents and some haven't; some of us have served in the military and others haven't; some have been rich, poor and middle class, and others have held steady at one level of wealth; some have played an active role in politics and others just show up to vote (if that) on Election Day. We tend to trust those who have had experiences we think are important, but democracies are centered around equality of citizens, not the idea that those with particular backgrounds should have a greater say in self-government. 

Virtually every argument I've heard against lowering the voting age is consistent with other kinds of limits to the franchise. As I told Michael Graham, this kind of elite theory of voting rights -- that the vote should be limited to, or at least dominated by, those who are in some ways the "best" -- has a history in the U.S. It's what the Progressives believed at the turn of the 20th century. And they developed and implemented policies such as voter registration, nonpartisan elections, initiatives and more to discourage voting by those they considered unworthy of the ballot. 

The Progressives were wrong then. Neo-Progressives, conservative and liberal, who want to restrict the franchise by making it harder to vote are wrong now. If we value a republican form of government, then we should value as much of an expanded electorate as we can get. And that should include younger people.

1. Donald Trump's tariffs may do more damage to the U.S. than just economic harm; they could also reduce U.S. international influence. Jonathan D. Moyer and David K. Bohl at the Monkey Cage explain.

2. Also at the Monkey Cage: Gail Buttorff on the opposition's plans for the election in Egypt

3. Dan Drezner on the possible North Korea summit

4. Lee Drutman worries about the reaction to a close election in 2018

5. Josh Putnam on what Democrats are thinking of doing about superdelegates -- and how the news media isn't quite getting it right. My sense is that the post-2008 reforms (which reduced the potential clout of the supers) were just about right, and the status quo is perfectly fine. But that's not where the party appears to be headed.

6. Susan Glasser on Chuck Todd and Trump.

7. And my Bloomberg View colleague Elaine Ou on women in tech.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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