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March 13, 2009


Count me out of the list of intelligent people who would even try to defend this status quo. Regardless of whether all adults should have the vote, to me it seems overwhelmingly obvious that any child who can score better than 50% of adult voters on a civics knowledge test (or many other possible tests) should have the vote. What possible excuse is there for denying this? Arguably the threshold should be even lower, but I have put this in its most definite form: this amendment raises the average voter's capability.

Related: http://tinyurl.com/c86uqw (Newt Gengrich's Let's End Adolescence)

I'm all about getting rid of antiquated industrial revolution era notions of people being 'children' until 18 or 21. Make the age of maturity 13 (if there needs to be an age). Though this won't work unless we also get rid of public schooling, which directly leads into the lack of maturity of our teenagers.

I'm not sure I'd trust the gov. to write up their own tests which it seems like would inevitably happen in the long run.

#1. Why is it necessary for the government to stimulate the economy?

#2. How did WWII prove that isolationism is bad?

#3. Why were the robber barons so evil?


I think 14 is the right age to open the floodgates on rights. Voting, driving, drinking, sex, everything. I justify this with two basic observations.

1. Statistically, across all 14 year olds, the level of maturity is no greater than that of 16, 18, or even 21 year olds. It's not until around 26 that we see a dramatic increase. That's why your car insurance rates drop massively at that point.

2. It is a Good Thing if you make your big mistakes with your rights while you are still around your usual support network. Most children turn 18, go away to college, and do dumb, dumb, DUMB things - in a strange place, with few close friends, far from their family.

On these two pillars, I think this change would be good for everybody. I would then add the third pillar that we are prosecuting more and more juvenile offenders as adults, which is a basic inequity - if you can charge a 14 year old as an adult for STEALING a car, then surely you can treat him as an adult if he wants to BUY one.

Voting tests are right out; I'll reject out of hand any argument that requires them. The danger of abuse that they introduce far outweighs any possible benefit.

If anything, I'd argue for an increase to the voting age. An 18 year old still living with their parents, or being supported on student loans can't reasonably be considered an adult. 25 would be a good point, that's old enough to have completed a degree, or to have a few years of work experience under the belt.

I'd also say there should be an age cap, set at the median life expectancy - 10 years. People beyond that age don't really have a stake in the long term societal development.

This debate seems to be based on the assumption that voting is a fundamental right following from the Cosmic Principles of Justice. Is that really so? Why a decision forced upon an individual is considered immoral, when supported by the minority of voters, stops being so when supported by the majority?

In practice, political systems are usually based on the equilibrium between different power groups. The system is stable if no group of people, powerful enough to overthrow it, can expect to benefit from its collapse. As long as kids remain totally dependent on their parents, their chances of enfranchisement stay slim.

I think advancing teen rights is key. Let's just be honest - people mature faster now than ever before. Female puberty onset is dropping, some say to 10, others to 7. The social consequences of this can't be doubted.

The question is whether adults can give up their romanticized ideas of childhood. Doubtful, even tho' the oldest religions have recognized what happens at 13.

I think that anyone who can earn income and pay taxes on that income can vote. If not reduce the voting age to 16, I'd allow minors to earn income tax-free until they are 18 (or, if it helps with cases like child-actors etc, force the legal guardian to pay taxes on any income made by the minor).

"Voting tests are right out; I'll reject out of hand any argument that requires them. The danger of abuse that they introduce far outweighs any possible benefit.

If anything, I'd argue for an increase to the voting age. An 18 year old still living with their parents, or being supported on student loans can't reasonably be considered an adult. 25 would be a good point, that's old enough to have completed a degree, or to have a few years of work experience under the belt." -Michael Kirkland

Let me get this right... It is okay to discriminate based on age, but not on knowledge? And we shouldn't do the latter because the danger of abuse? Forgive me if I reject your opinions "out of hand".

Tying voting rights to a civics exam gives politicians incentive to manipulate the exams, or worse, to sabotage the schools in areas that vote against them. I'm all for lowering the voting age, but it should be age, and age alone, that decides who can vote; any other criterion carries the risk of destructive side-effects.

If it were actually possible to replace age with a non-biased test of civic knowledge, that would be great.

Kirkland is right that the tests would be an invitation for political abuse, but let's assume that away. Imagine a fair test. In practice, any such test would disenfranchise -- what, 80%? -- of the current electorate. So that is never going to happen.

If you drop the voting age without instituting the test (which we have to think could happen, since it has happened before) then you are probably just increasing the proportion of the electorate that couldn't pass your test. Isn't that pareto inferior? I guess that is assuming that you want smart voters. Maybe you are striving for other social goods. More feeling of efficacy for teenagers? Or what?

Here's what you guys at OB should dislike: in practical terms, votes for pre-college kids means extra votes for their parents, ie extra votes for those most likely to breed, ie extra votes for the religious.

We tried the whole "take a test before you can vote" thing before. It didn't work so well.


Eeeew, nasty case.

As for lowering significantly the voting age, I've thought of that several times. The one main issue that has occurred to me though was this: Lower it too much, to ages where the parents can far more easily intimidate/emotionally manipulate/etc the kids, and what you have is not something that enhances kids' rights, but something that simply multiplies the votes of the parents.

_THAT_ is more or less my primary reason to be hesitant about lowering the voting age that low.

The flipside is that we really shouldn't _EVER_ charge anyone as an adult if they're below the voting age, whatever it might happen to be. (And the juvenile system ought not have these nasty bits, like the above)

But yeah, while on the one hand, I'd like to see the lowering of the voting age... not if the real effect of it is to just to simply multiply the votes of the parents.

As far as "pass this test to get the right to vote", well, I don't think I need to say anything further on that than what's already been said. We know quite well, historically, how bad that sort of thing turns out in actual reality.

I was extremely frustrated at not having a political voice in how the world was being run before eighteen, and I was also furious that as an intelligent teenager I couldn't get into an R-rated movie about the holocaust, philosophical pieces like The Matrix, or practically any art-house movie on surrealism or films on the consequences of war, like Punishment Park by Peter Watkins. My intellectual growth was inhibited by prurient censors worried that their little angels might see [GASP] a naked human body! (including my hyper-religious neo-conservative parents, who I really wish I could have voted against in the election of two-thousand)

I don't think Michael Kirkland's "age cap for voting" idea goes far enough; ten years isn't really long-term at all. The population with the highest life expectancy would have the biggest stake in long-term development, so they should be calling the shots. Therefore, only young healthy women should be allowed to vote or run for office. In addition to improving government foresight, awareness of public affairs will skyrocket as C-SPAN becomes the most-watched network on television.

I would like evidence to back this up, but it seems to me that a person's capacity for long-term planning and wise judgment don't reach their adult maximum until somewhere in the 20s. Increased age is widely noted for its moderating influence, diminishing impulsiveness, and introduction of caution.

There is a conflict between our concept of voting rights as a universal moral demand and our use of democracy as a mechanism for making wise decisions. If you take the latter view of democracy, and I do, then you ought to limit the franchise to those who are likely to make decisions with wisdom and forethought.

Personally, I support raising the voting age so that an individual has to be old enough to run for the office he is voting for. I am willing to make a compromise based on the "no taxation without representation" argument - I would support the franchise for teenagers who pay positive net income taxes if we are allowed to disenfranchise adults who pay negative net income taxes.

I'm with Bryan Caplan, against "Get out the vote" campaigns. I want to restrict the franchise, ideally with a test but I'll settle for age if we can't get John Jay style timocracy either.

Many "kids" should be given more of the rights and responsibilities of adults, but merely being an adult does not make you a competent voter.

Regarding Robin's claim that a test of civic knowledge is "within the range of feasible outcomes," think of the percentage of the electorate that a proposed test would eliminate, and consider which party that test would advantage.

In current American politics, the parties have very distinct distributions across the education and intelligence spectrums. Republicans dominate the middle, and Democrats dominate the tails. So if the test dropped out the dumbest 10% of the voters, that would be an enormous advantage to Republicans. For a test that would advantage democrats, you would have to go to one that drops out the bottom 70% or so of the populace.

So I am not sure exactly what Robin means by "feasible" -- maybe he means "I can imagine it." But I don't think it can mean "a specific proposal with both of the currently empowered two parties endorsing it." Maybe not even "either one endorsing any possible version." Imagine party A proposing: "we want a test that disenfranchises X % of the electorate." What would the other party's next best move be?

Yes, no doubt there are a lot of smart kids like 22 who are furious at being disenfranchised under the current system. And?


Why do you covet the franchise so much when your individual exercise of it makes so little difference?

Also, as a grad student I would be disenfranchised if they instituted an income or wealth requirement on voting rights, but I would still support such a measure because I believe it would lead to more rational democratic decision-making.

The US can't even create voting districts in a non-partisan manner, I don't think it's feasible to try to create a non-partisan civics test.

As for the age limit I can see three possible ages.

1) 25 or so in order to give the person a good chance to mature and understand the world.

2) 18 since this is the average age that someone emancipates from their parents and is now experiencing all the world.

3) 14 since this gives the child the experience of an election cycle under the guidance of their parents.

I think 2) is the most favourable to unstable political systems since you can have the political movements sweeping campuses where the children are essentially without a tribe and trying to find one.

I think 3) is the most stable as it's much easier for the parents to enforce their political leanings on their children.

I think 1) is probably the best overall. It's more dynamic than 3) but since people are more mature when they initially vote and make their initial alignment they may make a more rational choice. Of course 1) is probably the toughest system to implement as well as 18-25 year olds won't want to wait for their franchise.
I think that options 1 and 3 result in a more stable system than we have with 1). I think the problem with 1) is people end up getting drawn into their party right out of high school and aligning more strongly. Going


Like snowflakes on a scale, my vote cancels out someone else's who I disagree with, and understanding that I am NOT in fact a unique political snowflake (as evidenced by all others who agree with me on such issues as the one we are discussing now) and also that I have influence on others and how they vote by controlling the nature of their update propagation in a Bayesian network (with the strongest influence on my peers and other people of my own age), I come to the conclusion that I can make quite a difference in an election's outcome- and this effect is compounded in local elections with low voter turnout, or in presidential elections, where because I live in Iowa if I am caucusing my vote counts as roughly 15,000 times as important as any later caucus or primary voter- because we are the first state to vote and candidates drop out after how well they do in the first trial (which is traditionally justified with the argument that Iowans take the selection process very seriously and try to learn as much about every candidate as possible before voting creating worthiness to be the initial test for aspirants- where in fact the real reason is that we are the Coop planet from the Foundation novels by Isaac Asimov and without our control over the process we would cut off all corn, pork, and soybean supplies to the rest of the states and everyone and their animals would starve to death). So that, and my state's high illiteracy rate, contribute to my zest for representation.

I'd argue for a more direct means of representation: Instead of one man = one vote, make it one dollar of tax paid = one vote.

The more you pay the govt, the more say you have in govt.
If kids make money and pay tax, they get to vote proportionately.
Incentive to pay tax rather than evade (although that may be more of a downside)
Easier to administrate and more transparent than a test

I've toyed with "vote per tax" as a system for one house of gov't (I wouldn't want it as the only way), but I think it breaks secret ballots. Though the people who benefit most may not need the protection of secrecy.

age and tests; we could split it. Pass 50+% or whatever on a test as a kid, and you get the vote; failing that (or not bothering) you get the vote automatically at 18.

maturity: Does anyone have much science to point at? Mature behavior often seems a function of expectations and necessity. Americans supposedly not being mature until 25 might be a function of college and alcohol cultures and ages of real jobs or marriage. I have seen claims -- no cites handy -- that the brain finishes maturing around 18-20, espeically the pre-frontal cortex key for inhibition and planning.

qualifications: what do you need to be a qualified voter, to cast your few bits of decision-making every few years? Detailed knowledge on lots of subjects, which you'd never express well even in a proportional or direct representation system, never mind our two-party system? Or the ability to decide "the current bums suck too much, throw them out in favor of some other bums." I've long wondered if the key point of democracy is not electing in but electing out.

Teenage lack of political influence matters. It's been known for a long time that teenagers are apt to have a circadian cycle which runs later than adults. A lot of teens can't get to sleep before midnight or 1AM. Staying up late isn't irresponsibility for them. Being foggy in the early morning isn't laziness. Neither can be solved by willpower.

Nonetheless, this research has had very little effect on school schedules (though some-- see the link above), even though teenagers do better if their sleep cycle is accommodated.

More generally, I don't know how much parents could control how their kids vote.

Age rules change quite often, and in 1971 the US approved a constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to 18.
As I remember it, the main justification for that at the time was that an 18 year old was old enough to drink and to die for his country, but not old enough to vote. Please remember that we had a widespread draft at that time, an unpleasant war that we ended up losing, and that most males ended up serving in some military capacity. Some used loopholes to evade it, such as Cheney and Clinton; and some used family connections to get cushy guaranteed-to-never-see-combat assignments, such as Bush. Oh, and the age for drinking alcohol has since been raised to 21.

I ran for election last November (I lost), and here in CO, there are a variety of minimum ages for a variety of state and local elected offices: 18, 21 and 25. A referendum to lower the min age to 21 for state house and reps was defeated. Most folks are familiar with the minimum age to run for President: 35.

"I don't know how much parents could control how their kids vote."

Nancy, how about:

1. talk to them every day for their first 18 years
2. Be the most trusted person in their lives
3. Guide their moral development from the earliest dawning of their consciousness
4. control the media to which they have access

There are a few kids who reject their parents views. No doubt some of the people posting here do (I would think this place would have more nonconformists than most). But the big majority of kids in the population don't.

This is from USA Today 11/1/2008: 'The authors of "The American Voter Revisited," published this year, found that parents who have the same party affiliation pass it to their children about 75 percent of the time.' Since each party has less than a third of the population as members, that is a pretty massive correlation.

I just added to the post.


The predictability of a person's opinions from his or her demographic features has no bearing on the validity of those opinions. If you want to figure out whether or not to enfranchise someone based on predictability of his or her vote, that's a policy question. But I don't think you can let it weigh too heavily and keep anything that looks like democracy. Vote by coin flip, with candidates selected to uniformly cover political space, seems like it would be the best way to eliminate the "massive correlation" between the votes of parents and children you are complaining about.

I think the higher priority should be dropping age (and other identity-status based limits) to run for office rather than for the vote. Young people are going to be of diminishing influence due to their asymptotic demographic decline to zero percent of the population -however, extraordinary public administrative talent, at the 1 in 300 million (or 1 in 6 billion) level could pop up in any sector of the population. So why deny ourselves access to it?

Imagine if the google, facebook, or youtube founders had to wait until 35 to found their companies. It seems to me we should be competing with shareholders for this talent to manage much huger entities like California or the United States -not excluding them from consideration so that people over 35 can feel higher status than younger folks.


Extending this idea even further, perhaps we should restrict voting and office-holding to those who have signed up for cryonics.

sternhammer, have you read the Nurture Assumption? It might be that political orientation is heritable for genetic reasons and we just conflate it with conditioning because the two causal links go together so often.

cover political space
What is the range of "political space"? And wouldn't most people prefer a normal distribution?

Oh well, if these kids are to be given the right to vote? That another cost for this time of recession. Further, these little people, may be just used by opportunist politicians in w wrong way. I suggest, choosing a representative from the number of kids who will be given the right to vote.


My straw man---which I stated to elicit more of sternhammer's views as he tears it down---is not that people should choose to vote by coin flip, but that they are forced to vote by coin flip.

As for the mess with political space, we can't use any election system that ends up having the candidates that people prefer, or choose to vote for, consistently get elected. But that's just what restricting the candidates on the ballot to ones that voters like would do.

Hi Annoyed.

Predictability is not the same as validity? I agree. I'm not sure how that is relevant. Maybe we should each clarify what we think we are arguing about.

I am saying that giving kids votes means more political power for those most likely to have kids. I'm not against that -- it would help the side I identify with in a lot of political fights win more of the time. I'm just pointing out the consequence.

I think TGGP is right that there are a lot of variables masked in the correlation between parents and kids votes. I don't know about genetics being one -- I guess it might be, but I would think other demographic factors are more powerful. Since ethnic identity and SES correlate highly with party affiliation, and with family membership, we would expect the correlation to look higher than that part we can attribute to parental influence. If 90% of black folks vote democratic, we can easily predict that most black kids will vote like their parents.

I am claiming that there is still some correlation that would remain after you knock those things out. How do kids know the world? Mostly by having their parents explain it to them. That still matters. The people like Nancy who don't see any reason to expect influence -- well, I wonder if they have kids. My oldest is only ten, so maybe I am overestimating what my influence will be when he's 16. Less than now. But I think the big drop in my influence comes when he goes to college.

And Annoyed, you have a real point when you say "I don't think you can let it weigh too heavily and keep anything that looks like democracy." But then, I don't think the winning argument for democracy is that it leads to smarter decisions. It has other virtues.

I am not sure what your last paragraph means. Could you expand?

We don't do voting tests in America. If kids get the vote, it will be given to all kids down to some age limit. And that would be stupid. Voters are already ignorant enough.

But it would at least make political debates more interesting. "If elected, I promise to shorten the school year by a month and add ice cream to all school lunches!"


Why don't we just cut out the middleman and sell political positions to the highest bidder, using winning bids to replace taxation entirely? It would make taxation voluntary without bringing in the free-rider problem, and makes sure that people only vote for the positions that affect them.

Laws work the same way.

Giving kids the right to vote wouldn't have much of an effect because actually voting is highly correlated with age.

Phil Goetz:
Voters are already ignorant enough.

Are 18 year-olds more ignorant than the rest of the population? Moreover, how does the ignorance of currently voting youths compare?


If we were to lower the voting age in Iowa, a younger you wouldn't have been the only person to be given the franchise. In addition, we would get a small legion of new voters who think "hopenchange" is a thoughtful campaign platform.

Ignorant voters swamp the informed voters in most voting populations.

I don't understand the interest in a "test." Why? Voting isn't about information or policy. We could all pass any test all aces and then still vote candy for our in-group. In fact, that's what we would continue to do.

Assuming we are still keeping the test of your parent's most common location when you were born...

If a test (instead of age) decides the right to vote, then everyone who signed the petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide (Water) should either be denied the right to anything containing water or the right to vote. Those people are more a danger to society than those commonly imprisoned in insane asylums. If they will unknowingly try to ban water, what else would they try to ban? I hear some people are even trying to ban voting for some people.

I've been dubious about restricting the franchise (though this is more about the felons and votes issue) ever since I read something by a gay man about what it was like to realize that the laws (some time ago) which defined gay sex as a felony meant (among other things) much less ability to change those laws.

How sure are you folks that if there are laws restricting the franchise, they won't exclude people like you?

Frelkins raises a good point - knowledge of political history or public policy is no guarantee of altruism, and there does appear to be an unspoken assumption that more knowledgeable enfranchised voters would support altruistic policies towards their disenfranchised peers. I imagine that some would do so, and others might either A) opportunistically take advantage of disenfranchised groups, or B) passively fail to take action to act in a beneficial manner towards them. (And this doesn't mean failing to support interventionist or liberal policies, such as, say, expanded welfare benefits; one could equally fail to support conservative policies such as tax reform that would attract new businesses to a depressed area.)

What do people think? Are there greater incentives for altruism (say, to avoid social uprisings) or self-interest in this situation?

Aspertarian: Of or pertaining to one who combines the social skills of a victim of Asperger's syndrome with strong adherence to and frequent statement of the principles of rigid, rule-based libertarianism and an uncontrollable tendency to pick fights. Found occasionally in life, but much more commonly on the internet.

"See that dude standing in the corner? Don't let him launch into his rant about the legalization of organ sales by child prostitutes; he's a real Aspertarian."

I am claiming that there is still some correlation that would remain after you knock those things out
This is what's known as "shared environment". Many people are sure it's there a priori, but what isn't genetic is usually nonshared environment.

Nancy, I don't vote and like Jacob the grad student I have no problem with my franchise being restricted.

Voting isn't about information or policy.
Voting affects policy. We (me and some others) want it to be about information to get better policy.

We could all pass any test all aces and then still vote candy for our in-group. In fact, that's what we would continue to do.
Read Bryan Caplan. The Self-Interested Voter Hypothesis is simply false.

What are the benefits of allowing children to vote? I don't see any.

Many kids wouldn't vote anyway, like young adults. Those that did vote would either be following parents' instructions or just nerds.

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