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Youth suffrage, or children's suffrage, is the right of youth to vote and forms part of the broader youth rights movement. Until recently Iran had a voting age of 15; Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua have a voting age of 16; and Indonesia, East Timor, Sudan, and Seychelles have a voting age of 17.
In the United States, suffrage originally could not be denied on account of age only to those 21 years of age or older; this age is mentioned in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified on July 1, 1971, lowered that age to 18. The primary impetus for this change was the fact that young men were being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War before they were old enough to vote. There have been many proposals to lower the voting age even further. In 2004, California State Senator John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) proposed a youth suffrage constitutional amendment called Training Wheels for Citizenship that would give 14-year-olds a quarter vote, 16-year-olds a half vote, and 17-year-olds a full vote.
In 2013, Takoma Park, Maryland became the first U.S. city to allow 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote. On January 5, 2015, Hyattsville, Maryland joined Takoma Park in lowering the voting age to 16.
A proposal to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 was defeated in the Venezuelan constitutional referendum, 2007.
Arguments for and against youth suffrage
- People of all ages are required to pay income and sales taxes; therefore, denying them the right to vote is taxation without representation.
- Children are legally permitted to have sex or drive a car in some countries, which are more dangerous and difficult than voting.
- Voter turnout among youth will improve if young people get in the habit of voting before they reach 18 and go to colleges far away from their state of residency, like it did in Germany when some states lowered their voting age for municipal elections.
- Education for and about democracy would be better served if there were no voting age.
- Government entitlements suppress fertility, which means the youth demographic is systematically suppressed, with no political power to offset the effect.
- Governments derive their just authority from the consent of the governed. To be legitimate, those who govern and those who legislate must be elected by the people, not a special subset of the people, such as those over the age of X years.
- Some youth are believed by some to not to have sufficient understanding of the realities of life to participate in voting. In response to this, most youth suffrage advocates point out these are the identical arguments used against women's suffrage, as well as the abolition of property requirements, in the past. Likewise, mental capacity or knowledge is often not a bar to the elective franchise.
Demeny voting is the idea that parents would cast votes on behalf of their children thereby ensuring that the interests of children were properly accounted for in the voting system. Most young people do not support themselves financially and are reliant upon parents for support, thus parental voting power should be proportionate to the number of dependents, especially where government benefits are concerned, to appropriately counterbalance the interests of the childless. Essentially, a case for "no taxation without representation." However, as children and their parents often have differing political, social, and economic interests, it is doubtful demeny voting would result in any significant advances of youth interests in government.
- Youth Suffrage - Lowering the Voting Age, The Freechild Project Survey of North American Youth Rights.
- Lowering the Voting Age Resources, National Youth Rights Association
- Worldwide Efforts to Lower the Voting Age, National Youth Rights Association.
- Californians consider granting 14-year-olds the right to vote, Bobby Caina Calvan, Boston Globe, April 25, 2004.
- Vote at 16.
- 'We can have sex, so why can't we vote?', The Guardian, Feb. 28, 2006.
- Top Ten Reasons to Lower the Voting Age, National Youth Rights Association.
- Hyde, M. (2001) Democracy Education and the Canadian Voting Age. PhD dissertation: University of British Columbia. http://hdl.handle.net/2429/12999
- Ponnuru, R. (2012) The Empty Playground and the Welfare State, http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/301108/empty-playground-and-welfare-state-ramesh-ponnuru
- Should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote?, BBC News (reader opinion), July 5, 2002.
- Cf. Pommuru, R. (2012) The Empty Playground and the Welfare State, http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/301108/empty-playground-and-welfare-state-ramesh-ponnuru