Before I cast my vote today, my 8-year-old daughter asked me who I was going to vote for. I told her honestly that I didn’t know, and she made a heartfelt case for Jill Stein.
Jill Stein! She didn’t pick that up at school. She’s probably heard me mention Dr. Stein, but she’d also clearly been doing some of her own reading about the Green Party candidate. So how come I get to vote and my politically engaged kid can’t?
Yes, I understand that most kids aren’t ready to form their own political opinions at age 8. Even my precocious girl is probably more swayed by Mommy and Daddy’s dinner table conversation than I want to think about.
The question of when a person is old enough to vote is a serious one, though, and there’s a strong case to be made for lowering the voting age. Argentina recently expanded voting rights to 16-year-olds. Today the New York Times has a Room For Debate column where kids weigh in on the idea of lowering the voting age to 13.
What they have to say varies: a lot of them focus on how the presidential candidates might dress and act to relate to younger voters. Aside from the humorous notion of Romney rapping and both candidates wearing saggy pants, the kids have some great ideas. They’re clear on the issues that matter to them, and they’re right that it’s different from the bulk of the electorate.
One 13-year-old presented a simple list of priorities, which were echoed by most of the other young writers on the panel. Hope Boone writes:
For candidates who want to win teenagers’ votes, here’s a to-do list:
• Invest in renewable energy
• Legalize gay marriage
• Provide free health care
• Make peace with the world
• Help students pay off school-related debt
• Protect access to contraceptives and abortion
• Separate religion and politics
That’s a pretty tall order, and a very progressive list.
Unfortunately, Hope won’t have the power to make her voice heard through voting for another five years. Which is a shame, since it seems clear she’s thought about the issues voters face with at least as much clarity and conscientiousness as many adults.
Why not give kids the vote?
The arguments against it are clear: kids’ votes would be unduly influenced by their parents’ politics, and kids’ lack the education and intellectual maturity to handle the responsibility of voting.
The thing is, those are pretty much the arguments against women’s suffrage, too. I can’t say I see much value in them. I think it’s time we reconsidered letting young teens have the vote.
What do you think? Would your kids like to vote? What age are kids ready to start participating in democracy?
Sierra Black has been writing for Strollerderby since 2009. Her work has appeared in Salon, the New York Times, Huffington Post and many other places. She chronicles her adventures in parenting at ChildWild.