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Votes for kids: why we should be giving children a say in elections

There is no good reason to exclude children from the right to vote. Ruskin Photos/Alamy Stock Photo

It’s not controversial to say that contemporary affluent societies do a rather poor job of taking the interests of younger generations into account. This is not only because children can’t vote and the elderly tend to turn up to elections in higher numbers. It’s also because many societies have ageing populations, making them demographically stacked against the youngest.

In Italy, for example, 60 per cent of the population is over 40. While the numbers aren’t quite that high in the UK, the phenomenon is still largely the same – with pensioners outnumbering children.

The neglect of children and young people in UK politics is evident. Childcare is in crisis. State schools are underfunded and understaffed, and young people are saddled with high university fees. They also face a difficult job market and cannot look forward to a decent, safe pension. It’s also much harder for them to buy their own home, compared with previous generations.

And that’s all without even considering issues related to the climate crisis or how COVID dramatically shrank children’s lives and social circles. What is clear is that children are directly affected by political decisions and policies. But they don’t have a say in elections, says Christian Schemmel from the University of Manchester.

In some places, the voting age for some elections has already been lowered to 16. Research shows that young people are more likely to continue to vote if they start at 16. Labour now proposes this for UK general elections.

Many want the voting age to be lowered further, to 12 or even 6-year-olds. But any age higher than 0 leaves millions of child citizens without representation of their interests. That problem can be solved by giving children proxy votes from birth, to be cast by their primary carers. We can combine this with any voting age we deem right.

Proxy voting is when a person delegates their voting rights to another person to vote on their behalf. It is already used in elections. It could work roughly in the same way with children and their parents or caregivers. Instead of delegation, we would use our registers of who is a child’s primary carer, authorising parents or legal guardians to vote on their behalf, if they are not yet old enough to vote themselves.

Giving children’s interests a voice

The idea of proxy voting for children has been proposed by academics and activists and discussed by politicians for decades, but hasn’t been tried yet.

For some, the idea may be concerning, with fears that primary carers will use the votes in their own interests rather than the children’s. Of course their interests are not exactly identical. But they largely overlap on the policies that matter most – from high quality childcare and schooling to generally improving the life prospects for the young.

For example, if prospects are bad, the young remain economically dependent on their parents for longer.

And even if a few carers use proxy votes badly, this is still better than not having children’s interests represented at all. Furthermore, we could restrict the number of possible extra votes per primary carer, so that people with more children did not have more votes.

Perhaps some would still feel that carers getting to exercise more votes somehow shows that society values families more than the childless. But this is a misunderstanding of proxy voting. It is needed simply to give children’s interests appropriate weight in our politics, given our demographics.

According to philosophers, there are two main reasons for giving people democratic voting rights. The first is simply that the vote is a mark of respect for people as free and equal moral agents capable of forming and expressing their own views on justice and the common good of their society.

The second relates to the good consequences of voting: giving people the vote avoids many bad social outcomes and raises the chances that nobody’s important interests will be overlooked.

Having proxy voting in place would likely make it easier to teach children about politics more effectively from an earlier age, and help them to become active citizens. But the main argument for it is simply that it gives weight to their interests in the electoral process. With millions more potential votes to be gained, we can expect that political parties would compete for these votes by committing to policies that are fairer towards the young.

When faced with the disproportionate political influence of the elderly, some philosophers have toyed with the idea of at least partially removing the vote from them (as the Romans apparently did). But many people think this would be a terrible idea: it would be a form of exclusion from politics. Adding proxy votes for children does not exclude anybody.

In lieu of a proxy voting system, if you’re a parent, this election is a good opportunity to start talking to your children about the democratic process, the issues you are concerned about and why you vote. You may even want to take them to the ballot box with you. Research shows that talking to young people about politics can help them trust in their own ability to effect change.The Conversation

Christian Schemmel is Senior Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Manchester

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Author: Guest author

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