A recent resolution to lower the voting age to 16 in LA school district elections has brought the question of denarian enfranchisement to our backyard: should 16 year olds be allowed to vote?
The short answer is yes. The long answer involves a discussion of cognition, maturity, and voter engagement. This discussion, however, often fails to examine the reasons that young people are unfairly excluded from enfranchisement in the first place and ignores historical precedence. While capable voters are barred from the conversation about gun control by disenfranchisement, the door for school shooters is kept open.
The Aristotelian view that a thing is worth as much as it can perform its function echoes into present times, in the view that kids are non-adults. We see the value of kids not in what they are, but in what they will one day become: adults. Furthermore, measures for development like IQ and Piaget’s stages of development, built on the above assumption and thus reflective of it, perpetuate a “deficit conception” of childhood; kids are understood as a configuration of deficits, lacking compared to the adult.
While the average person might not care much about IQ or Piaget’s stages of development, they nevertheless construct their own frameworks for judging children’s development, all the while maintaining the superior authority. Thus, they subscribe to the above view.
This is problematic because adults are vested with the responsibility of acting in children’s best interests. With such a condescending perception of non-adults, should adults be trusted with this responsibility in the first place?
Skepticism of the competency requisite for liberty rights, such as voting, is well-founded for most ages of non-adulthood. However, it has been shown that at 16 year olds have the cognitive capacity to properly vote. The notion that 16 year olds lack experience and maturity to make informed decisions is obviously wrong — and as of yet merely questionable in regard to experience.
Enter school shootings, or the PTSD that ensues in the aftermath, or the anxiety suffered by schoolchildren fortunate enough not to have been directly affected by such a tragic event. School children suffer, and that suffering can be stopped or at least mitigated in simple ways.
Yet the last time a non-adult was subjected to the gun violence of a school shooting was May 7, 2019, less than seven days ago at the time of the writing of this article. Clearly, adults are not acting in children’s best interests, and they clearly fail to acknowledge this. While adults also suffer at the hands of these massacres, it remains unacknowledged that children objectively suffer more.
When voice through vote is their only feasible defense against what has become a new American past time, why aren’t we giving children that voice?
For the U.S., the voting age issue finds its roots on the day November 11, 1942. This was the day that Congress reduced the minimum draft age from 21 to 18. It was because of this day that the suffrage-age lowering slogan “old enough to fight, old enough to vote” came into use during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s World War II presidency.
When peeling back the facades of “duty” and “honor” prescribed by government propaganda to young men being drafted as justification for their going to war for country, it becomes clear that advocates’ reason for lowering the voting age then was really an equalization of the right to voice with obligation of service. Having to die for something that one blindly recognized as his higher power had since become unpopular, reserved for the less enlightened subjects of the Divine Right rulers of civilizations past.
It would take intolerably unjustifiable bloodshed to enfranchise drafted 18, 19, and 20 year old vassals of the state into full-fledged citizenship, and the Vietnam War was just that type of bloodshed. Men fighting across the Pacific were dying for a cause that much of the American public of the time thought empty. In 1971, galvanized by the prospect of engaging in unconscionable violence on the behalf of the state, freshly-minted adults (i.e. 18 year olds) successfully lobbied politicians to grant political voice to their peers who were obliged to partake in politically-motivated violence.
When young people were subjected to the violence brought on by American policy, they were given a right to vote. Today we face arguably as intolerable circumstances: kids die at the hands of gun violence, gun violence remains rampant thanks to unmoving policy, all the while U.S. citizenship is lauded in America as being coveted across the globe.
Is this citizenship worth it if that citizenship comes at a cost that is withheld from your power to prevent?
It is time to recognize that the best interests of our schoolchildren are no longer being served. It is time to give them the right to voice what they deserve.