Diritti In evidenza

Sinite parvulos! A truly universal suffrage

Attention: this is an automatic translation from this post

28/03/2023 – When we first reflected on this issue, it was mid-2020, in the year in which, more than any other, the younger generations paid the dearest price of giving up their freedom of movement and partly to the right to receive an adequate education; all this was done to protect the most fragile generations, those of one’s grandparents and, sometimes, of one’s older teachers.
It was a justifiable sacrifice and, based on our personal experience, well accepted by young people and children, who understood the seriousness of the pandemic situation and above all understood how important the principles of social solidarity were and the reasons of public health.
This very particular situation of an epochal and sudden nature, together with the surprising energy and determination demonstrated by a Swedish woman (who was a minor at the time) who radically changed the fundamentals of the struggle to safeguard the environment and the survival of mankind, have produced in February 2021 the first draft of this post, still crystallized in some recess of the web but never really published.
This version is the result of a partial revision, basically characterized by a single change due to a reconsideration born from the comparison with the few people with whom I shared that idea.

…Enjoy the reading!

This is not an awareness campaign. But it could become one.

The central point of the question is the democratic participation of citizens in the context not only of Italy but also of Europe. Democracy is experiencing a crisis of representation in Europe; every European citizen in fact participates in various elections: those for the European parliament, the national ones, the district ones (in Italy now only for the regions) and the municipal ones, without forgetting also those relating to referendum consultations.

However, what appears to be an oversized exercise of representation collides with some limits in participation; with each election, abstention increases for several reasons: disgust for the political class; the feeling that electoral choices do not really affect political direction; the privilege of economics and finance over politics; finally, the poor education of citizens regarding the institutional mechanisms that regulate democracy and representation.

Today citizens are disillusioned and pass this disillusionment on to younger children, who almost never show up prepared for their first vote.

The initiatives of the Fridays for Future movement have shown that a young woman, even if she is unable to exercise the right to vote, can unleash public opinion on issues that interest young people; but above all they show that no “adult” has been able to do it, even if it was former US Vice President Al Gore (perhaps because Al Gore’s crusade was originally born to help corn producers in his Tennessee when he was running for the White House.

Citizen involvement must be cultivated

Most adult voters are therefore disillusioned, but we cannot continue to do things the same way and hope to reverse the trend and obtain different results.

Indeed, every civic education initiative is sterile: who would ever have an interest in driving a car if they can’t drive it yet?

If future voters are excluded from electoral processes and political discussion, they will likely continue to disregard even when they can vote. And when they can do so, they will suffer a cultural delay equal to the years of waiting, the years in which they were excluded from the vote.

A clarification: why are we opposed to lowering the voting age to 16?

The recent proposal made by Enrico Letta to lower the age for exercising the right to vote in Italy is not a valid remedy and presents the same problems that impose any age limit: you only earn two years of delay but the profound reasons for the lack of interest of young people towards politics are not changed. If the right to vote is a merit and a responsibility, it is not clear why sixteen-year-olds are more deserving and more responsible than fifteen-year-olds: perhaps because they have finished compulsory school? On the contrary, in most of the scholastic systems, the teaching of history and geography in the first two years of high school is absolutely insufficient compared to that of a student who has finished lower secondary school, especially for the purposes of world awareness modern!

We are therefore strongly opposed to lowering the age required to vote to 16.

Our absurd (cit.) proposal

Foto di Gaelle Marcel – su Unsplash

Our proposal is simple: extend the right to vote to any citizen who is able to walk into a polling booth alone to draw a cross or write a couple of names in block capitals!

Let’s see why this choice would be convenient and, above all, right.

Why do children and young people deserve to vote?

The right to vote, the right to be represented, has always been linked to the taxpayer’s fiscal capacity: “No taxation without representation” was born as a political slogan that originated in the American Revolution and that expressed one of the main complaints of American colonists against Great Britain, but it is also one of the foundations of the participation of “productive” citizenship, the one that maintains the state apparatus.

The principle is now apparently outdated, since the right to vote is considered an inalienable civil right regardless of the citizen’s ability to pay; yet the principle is still valid, in the sense that from a solidarity perspective the active contribution of the citizen is fundamental for the functioning of the institutions. Thanks to progressive taxation and redistribution, all citizens are entitled to guarantees of freedom and participation. However, to be precise, all citizens but only if they are of age.

But if we consider the status of children and young people, we should reconsider the principle “No taxation without representation” in a different perspective:

  1. in the first place it is evident that it is the task of society (and therefore of the State as an essential tool for the organization of society) to grow and educate children, to allow them to obtain full citizenship, but above all to contribute to economic consolidation and social responsibility of society: this responsibility is by no means free, since children will be future taxpayers;
  2. equally evident is that the bet of society and the state towards children is a bet on the state itself: a favor (certainly not requested by children) that acquires meaning only because children are future citizens;
  3. On the other hand, it is terribly evident that, as atmospheric pressure is measured by considering an ideal column of fluids, the tax burden that weighs on each child’s head constitutes a “tax column” that today makes the future of every child even more burdensome;
  4. children and young people could therefore claim the slogan of America’s revolutionaries: “We do not accept any future taxes if we cannot be represented!

Kids already pay the most expensive taxes: those on their own future!

Sinite parvulos: why is it suitable for children and teenagers?

Being able to take responsibility for deciding to the same extent that adults can is an incentive to take an interest in institutions! Why should a boy ever be interested in institutions if he is excluded from the decision-making perimeter?

The weight of such a responsibility will be a stimulus to understand the institutions, laws, mechanisms of representation and more: it will also be a stimulus to understand and confront, well before adulthood, with the increasingly subtle manipulations that communication politics (and not politics) exerts on society.

It seems obvious, but exercising active electorate from childhood, children would come of age with greater chances of exercising passive electorate.

Moreover, if the most motivated friends and comrades can do “grown-up things”, even the peers less sensitive to democracy will be stimulated; all this will lead to a cascade effect with externalities unthinkable with any “civic education” course. And even the older kids, those so far less interested in politics, will begin to emulate the little ones who decide to vote. And perhaps even older and disillusioned citizens will enter into a virtuous competition with younger children.

If we succeed in sparking this spark, a fire of participation and democratic growth could be born for the whole of society.

Why is it convenient for the State?

For any democratic state, it is important that children are empowered to democracy right away. A paradoxical example of how important an early intervention is to include young people comes precisely from dictatorships: in authoritarian states, in fact, the involvement of the younger generations becomes one of the fundamental assets for creating consensus; not only that: the young people embedded in the system become the backbone of dictatorships, and even lead to the dictatorships themselves that minimum free thought that often determines the longevity and health of those states.

The paradox of dictatorships: do we want dictatorships to surpass democracies in terms of involving the younger generations?

For those who fear terrible upheavals in the political landscape, it is useful to remember that, due to the aging of the European population, the impact of the votes of minors will not be decisive for the political balance: demography is in fact extremely unbalanced upwards: even if all new voters able to vote were to vote, they would be less than 15% of the total population.

Population pyramids, EU-27, 2004 and 2019
Population age structure by major age groups, 2009 and 2019 (% of the total population)

Naturally the children will become a target for all those politicians who will try to reach them, through all the multimedia channels aimed at the younger generations; but remember that those topics concern all citizens and not just the youngest: adults will perhaps learn something, and children will confront themselves with adults and will not be alone in front of social media as happens with the issues that remain within the youth perimeter , makeup artist, pixel art, music, etc).

Will this perhaps be the occasion to bring the issues that interest the younger generations to the generalist political agenda? Precisely those issues that the world would have ignored, if only an out-of-the-ordinary sixteen-year-old Swedish girl hadn’t shaken the world audience by playing the game of her life.

Why is it convenient for parents?

Parents rarely talk about politics with their children and often talk about it in clichés and without contributing to the maturation and fulfillment of future choices. Having a child who votes therefore also becomes an opportunity to make parents responsible first of all.

For parents it would be an even greater duty, to educate children in politics, to do so at an age where they can still be heard and not when, during adolescence, children are less and less willing to listen to their parents. (and not just when they talk about politics).

In addition, all adults, and not just those who have minor children, will feel compelled to set an example for children: politics could even become a topic of intergenerational conversation.

Right to vote. For everyone!

We hope to have contributed to making it clear that, in order to involve school children on political issues of interest to them, the only possible solution must be extreme, courageous and radical: we must propose the extension of the right to vote to all minors, without no age distinction. This idea today seems to us perhaps absurd, unjust and unattainable, but it is due to cultural conditioning; as we have tried to demonstrate, there are several reasons for considering it right and necessary.

Let’s think about it: until recently there were those who thought it absurd to grant the right to vote to anyone who was not a white male, possibly wealthy …

Moreover, we have always complained that “today’s kids” (those of every “today” since we can remember …) never mobilize enough: well, involving them in political decisions could finally combine youthful passion with a goal politic. Instead, by removing the youth from politics, only one result can be obtained: the children will become a political problem. The kids will become a brake on innovation in politics, an inconceivable subtraction of intelligence and imagination from the public debate.

We are sure that a campaign to ask for the extension of the right to vote for young people would have the advantage of intriguing them right away; perhaps they would immediately enter into a virtuous dialectical conflict with their parents who (we expect) will tend to be against this campaign …

As soon as politics has attracted the attention of young people as a political subject, (hopefully) their involvement in the issues that concern them will become easier! Therefore…

Sinite parvulos!

Photo by Long Truong on Unsplash

A little less than essential bibliography:

Olga Erenc’s degree thesis dedicated to the subject

S. Lecce, Should democracy grow up? Children and voting rights, Intergenerational Justice Review 9 (4), 2009

J. Rutherford, One child, one vote: Proxies for parents, Minnesota Law Review 82, 1998

P. Cook, Against a minimum voting age, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, vol. 16(3), 2013

Prof. David Runciman, professor of political science at the University of Cambridge, would lower the age for voting to 6 years (a podcast and a article)

If Minors Could Vote, by LANE WALLACE on The Atlantic

An idea by Giampaolo Bottoni, which we share in substance even if not in form

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