Thursday, March 22, 2007

Eliminate voting age restrictions

I just found out about the Vote16 campaign to lower the voting age in Canada, and to encourage greater participation by youth in politics.

Democracy, fundamentally, should be about bringing together the diverse voices of the community to come to the most informed collective decision we can. By deliberately excluding an entire range of perspectives from the discussion, we reduce the quality of our decision making.

The excuses for excluding youth from voting closely parallel the excuses that were used for excluding women to vote. Prime examples:
“They’ll just vote the way their husbands/parents tell them to.”
“They don’t understand politics so won’t be able to make an informed choice.”

If we were going to exclude people from the dialogue because they’re not experts, we’d be left with only a handful of voters. Besides, I’ve known some kids who were way more informed (and interested) about politics than most adults in our society.

The Vote16 campaign is just targetting lowering the voting age to 16. Personally, I would like to eliminate age restrictions on voting altogether. Not surprisingly, I tend to get rather defensive arguments from people when I suggest this “extreme” viewpoint.

I get responses like “So you would let a two-year-old vote?!?” My answer is yes, if they choose to. Just as I would let an adult with a brain injury, a mental illness, alzheimer’s, etc., vote. Why should we be so afraid of different perspectives? Why should we be afraid of including all voices in the dialogue of our community?

We provide supportive voting for people with disabilities, for illiterate adults, etc. Why are we willing to go to extra effort to include their differing viewpoints and not the differing viewpoints of those who stand to have to deal the longest with the consequences of our decisions?

The children of today have the greatest stake in the decisions we make now, because they will still be dealing with the costs and benefits long after the current adult generation has passed on.

It is a tremendous loss to our community and our future to disenfranchise the youth of today. I believe the current generation is paying the price of the same failure on the part of previous generations. How much better off might our world have been if we had included those perspectives in the decisions of generations past?
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