chapter  8
20 Pages

Against a minimum voting age

ByPhilip Cook

Defenders of a minimum voting age argue that it is reasonable to require competence from those who participate in collective decisions that are enforced coercively. A minimum voting age is regarded as the most effective and least disrespectful way to ensure a sufficiently competent electorate. In this paper I argue that a minimum voting age should be rejected as a means of ensuring a sufficiently competent electorate. A minimum voting age relies on an unreasonably controversial conception of political maturity that would fail to win acceptance from all qualified points of view. Political maturity also fails to provide a determinate threshold for sufficient competence. As age is a proxy for sufficient maturity, and as sufficient maturity is subject to vagueness, age as a threshold of competence should be rejected. A minimum voting age may remain justified in

the absence of a less controversial, vague, and disrespectful alternative. I present such an alternative in the form of a procedural test for minimum electoral competence. This test avoids problems of reasonable rejectability and vagueness of political maturity, and is less harmful to the self-esteem of those less than minimally qualified. It also fulfils adults’ duties of appraisal respect to children more effectively than a minimum voting age. It affords minimally competent children the opportunity to participate directly in democracy through voting. This is the most effective way of promoting the development of children’s democratic agency. A procedural test for minimum electoral competence is therefore preferable, all things considered, to a minimum voting age.