Youth suffrage is the right of youth to vote and forms part of the broader universal suffrage and youth rights movements. Most democracies have lowered the voting age to between 16 and 18, while some advocates for children's suffrage hope to remove age restrictions entirely.[1]



Main article: Suffrage

The "one man, one vote" democratic ideal supports giving voting rights to as many people as possible in order for the wisdom of a more representative electorate to create better outcomes for society. Setting a voting age at or below 16, for example, would accomplish that practical goal, while also creating a more ethical democracy for those who believe that those most impacted by government decisions (those with the longest life expectancy[2]) are given at least an equal say in decision-making.

Presumptive inclusion

The idea of presumptive inclusion, which is broadly accepted, especially by those who study democracy, holds that individuals should be given the right to vote by default and only removed if the government can decisively prove why someone shouldn't have that right.[3][4][5] Airing on the side of over-inclusion also checks the temptations of those with power (or simply status quo bias) to exclude capable voters. The first reason for exclusion that is seen as legitimate by some democratic theorists is competence, while the second is connection to the community. Age-related debates fall under the question of competence.[3]

Sufficient literacy, comprehension and intelligence

Many countries don't require literacy in order to vote, validating the idea that attaining a certain level of education is not needed to understand how to cast a vote according to one's interest or beliefs. In the 1965 U.S. Voting Rights Act for example, it was determined that a 6th grade education (typically achieved by age 12-13) provided "sufficient literacy, comprehension and intelligence to vote in any election."[6] If kids were given the same tests that adults whose brains are atypical must pass in order to vote, then many pre-adolescents would qualify as competent[3] (see also: ableism, neurodiversity, and Suffrage for Americans with disabilities). Additionally, ballots cast by someone (ie kids) with little understanding might simply randomly allocate votes and have no impact on the outcome of the election.[3]

Further, law professor Vivian Hamilton argues that in light of findings from research in developmental psychology and cognitive and social neuroscience, governments can "no longer justify the electoral exclusion of mid-adolescents by claiming that they lack the relevant competencies."[3]

John Wall argues that precisely because children and youth think differently than adults, that they would make unique contributions to decisions around issues with their fresh perspectives and useful abilities such as compassion for suffering and even great wisdom.[7]

Political knowledge

As for knowledge around the political decisions at the ballot box, Daniel Hart argues that 16-year-olds have proved just as capable of evaluating the candidates that align with their values and interests as 18 and 19-year-olds (though not as much knowledge as 30 year-olds).[8]

Others dispute whether not having the average political knowledge of an 18 year-old is a good reason for exclusion, given the double-standard of how adults don't have to prove some level of political knowledge before voting.[3] Additionally, not every voter is expected to know about every issue, but the wisdom of the crowd from different expertise and life experiences is what contributes to a healthy and informed citizenry, including perspectives that are unique to those under 18.[3] Most people use heuristics (political party, endorsements, etc.) to decide who to vote for, there's evidence that heuristics can be a more effective approach in voting rationally than a detailed issue-by-issue analysis of each candidate in each race.[3] Additionally, while prior knowledge and experience can provide greater understanding, it can also lead to less informed decision-making by closing an otherwise open mind.[3]

Some scholars advocating for a further reduced voting age, promote the idea that it should be always be optional below a certain age, so that those who feel they don't know enough yet aren't forced to participate until they want to.[9]

Youth activism

Main articles: Youth activism and Student activism

Youth and student activists have a long history of learning about and advocating for more inclusive futures, so young advocates have begun asking for the ability to vote on some or all issues.[10][11]

Independence from peers and parents

Parents have not been shown to have influence over youth voting behavior in studies of countries where the vote has been given to 16-year-olds, just as this fear didn't manifest when women were given the right to vote.[8][12] Likewise, peer pressure has been shown to have no greater influence on teens than on adults when it comes to voting.[13]

John Wall argues that even if children chose to vote exactly as either their parents or their peers, it would not justify their disenfranchisement just as such behavior would not disqualify adults.[7]


While teenagers can be more impulsive in certain 'hot' contexts until their early 20's,[14] in a 'cool contexts,' such as in a voting booth, there is no significant difference in a 16-year-old's ability to make careful, rational decisions like any other voter.[15] Others contend that governments shouldn't withhold rights that young children can perform, like voting, just because they haven't received other rights that they can't perform, like driving.[16] A lot of development in that analytical part of the brain takes place between 14 and 16, which is why 16 year-olds are often given more societal privileges like being able to work jobs or drive a car that are more difficult than voting.[17] Under Roman law, the age minimum for full citizenship was 14 (for males), while in much of 9th-11th century France, Germany and Northern Europe the age of adulthood (largely for fighting in wars) was 15.[3]

Legitimacy and trust

Scholars have found no negative effects from lowering the voting age in countries around the world, and in many places, positive ones like increased trust in institutions and a more favorable view of the lower voting age over time.[18] A study of five countries in Latin America, for example, where the voting age was lowered to 16 showed a significant association with trust in government and a marginal association with satisfaction.[19] In addition to taxation without representation, governments derive their just authority from the consent of the governed. To be legitimate, those who govern and those who legislate, the argument goes, must be elected by the people, not a special subset of the people.

Voting skills and habits

Scholars have found no negative effects from lowering the voting age below 18 in countries around the world, and in many places, positive ones like increased turnout and engagement.[18] Youth enfranchisement at a more stable life stage (before 18) has been shown to develop more robust and long-lasting voting habits,[20] leading to greater rates (~25% higher, according to one study) of voting in the future.[6] Studies in Norway,[21] Austria[22] and Scotland[23][24] found that allowing 16-year-olds to vote led those voters to have "substantially higher levels of engagement with representative democracy (through voting) as well as other forms of political participation". A study of preregistration (registering individuals before they are eligible to vote) in the U.S. found that it was linked to higher youth turnout, and that politicians became more responsive to issues that the young have strong preferences on, such as higher education spending.[25] While some South American countries (Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador) lower their voting age to 16, they also have compulsory voting starting at 18, making it difficult to study turnout effects from the lower voting age. Indonesia provides a potential case-study for non-western democracies, though they have only lowered their voting age to 17.[26] Educating children for and about democracy would likely be longer lasting if the voting age were lowered or eliminated,[27] while just how skilled kids could become over the course of a few elections is unknowable since it has yet to be tried below the age of 16.[7]

Proposed minimum voting ages


Currently the lowest national voting age around the world, there seems to be a consensus in studies of elections that voters at 16 have proven to be substantially the same as voters at 18.[28][29] The majority of campaigns to lower the voting age worldwide (as of January 2023) seek a voting age of 16, with perhaps the most notable example being the European Union's endorsement that its members lower their voting ages to 16.[30] In countries with both compulsory voting and a voting age at 16 (Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador), the penalties for not voting start at 18.


Avi Hein and Ta-Nehisi Coates called for lowering the voting age to 15.[31][32] (note: the United Nations defines "youth" as being from ages 15 to 24.)[33]


Politics professor David Runciman argues for lowering the voting age to 6, given that at that age children tend to be in school and have enough ability to read and fill out a multiple-choice ballot.[34][35]


Youth councils (or children's parliaments) often include children starting at age 5, which John Wall submits as evidence of their readiness for other civic roles such as voting (note: he advocates eliminating age requirements altogether).[30]


Democratic schools practice and support universal suffrage in school, which allows a vote to every member of the school including students and staff. Schools hold that this feature is essential for students to be ready to move into society at large. The Sudbury Valley School, for example, allows all kids ages 4 and up an equal say in its operation.[36][37]

0 (Eliminate age requirements)

Some advocate for eliminating age as a factor altogether in enfranchisement noting that in practice most very young children won't choose to vote, but that they should have the right to do so when they feel ready,[16] with some supporting a proxy vote to be awarded to their parents until the child wants to vote.[30] Others cite how literacy tests were banned for adults, and therefore should be done away with for young kids too by removing the voting age.[38][39]

See also


  1. ^ Pearse, Harry (28 December 2022). "Why aren't children allowed to vote? An expert debunks the arguments against". The Conversation. Retrieved 2023-01-18.
  2. ^ "World Happiness Report: living long and living well". LSE Business Review. 2021-03-19. Retrieved 2023-01-20.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hamilton, Vivian E. (2012). "Democratic Inclusion, Cognitive Development, and the Age of Electoral Majority". Rochester, NY. SSRN 2086875. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ Wiland, Eric (2018), "Should Children Have the Right to Vote?", The Palgrave Handbook of Philosophy and Public Policy, Cham: Springer International Publishing, p. 223, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-93907-0_17, ISBN 978-3-319-93906-3, retrieved 2023-02-19
  5. ^ Olsson, Stefan (2008). "Children's Suffrage: A Critique of the Importance of Voters' Knowledge for the Well-Being of Democracy". The International Journal of Children's Rights. 16 (1): 56. doi:10.1163/092755608x267120. ISSN 0927-5568.
  6. ^ a b Rusch, Elizabeth (2020). You call this democracy? : how to fix our government and deliver power to the people. Boston. ISBN 978-0-358-17692-3. OCLC 1124772479.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  7. ^ a b c Wall, John (2022). "Chapter 2". Give Children the Vote: On Democratizing Democracy. London, UK. ISBN 978-1-350-19630-8. OCLC 1262678642.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  8. ^ a b "Daniel Hart: Time for American Teens Under 18 to Hit the Polls". AAPSS. 2011-02-23. Retrieved 2022-12-29.
  9. ^ Tremmel, J., Wilhelm, J. (2015). Democracy or Epistocracy? Age as a Criterion of Voter Eligibility. In: Tremmel, J., Mason, A., Godli, P., Dimitrijoski, I. (eds) Youth Quotas and other Efficient Forms of Youth Participation in Ageing Societies. Springer, Cham.
  10. ^ "Learning by Voting: Students Want the Right to Make a Difference in Real Life - MindShift". KQED. 30 October 2020. Retrieved 2023-01-31.
  11. ^ Sherrod, Lonnie R (2006). Youth activism: an international encyclopedia (Volume 2 ed.). Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313328114.
  12. ^ Douglas, Joshua A. (2017-01-01). "In Defense of Lowering the Voting Age". Rochester, NY. SSRN 2903669. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. ^ Sinclair, Betsy (2012). The social citizen : peer networks and political behavior. Chicago. ISBN 978-0-226-92281-2. OCLC 783150326.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  14. ^ 'We can have sex, so why can't we vote?', The Guardian, Feb. 28, 2006.
  15. ^ Douglas, Joshua A. (2017-01-01). "In Defense of Lowering the Voting Age". Rochester, NY. SSRN 2903669. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ a b Pearse, Harry (28 December 2022). "Why aren't children allowed to vote? An expert debunks the arguments against". The Conversation. Retrieved 2023-01-18.
  17. ^ Begley, Patrick (2015-03-27). "Hot and cold thinking: why 16-year-olds are smart enough to vote, but not drink". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2022-12-24.
  18. ^ a b Eichhorn, Jan (14 July 2021). "Lowering the Voting Age to 16 in Practice: Processes and Outcomes Compared". Parliamentary Affairs. 74 (3): 507–521. doi:10.1093/pa/gsab019. hdl:11250/2767873.
  19. ^ Sanhueza Petrarca, Constanza (2020), Eichhorn, Jan; Bergh, Johannes (eds.), "Does Voting at a Younger Age Have an Effect on Satisfaction with Democracy and Political Trust? Evidence from Latin America", Lowering the Voting Age to 16: Learning from Real Experiences Worldwide, Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 103–119, doi:10.1007/978-3-030-32541-1_6, ISBN 978-3-030-32541-1, S2CID 214234702, retrieved 2023-01-20
  20. ^ Douglas, Joshua A. (2017-01-01). "In Defense of Lowering the Voting Age". Rochester, NY. SSRN 2903669. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  21. ^ Top Ten Reasons to Lower the Voting Age, National Youth Rights Association.
  22. ^ Zeglovits, Eva; Aichholzer, Julian (2014-07-03). "Are People More Inclined to Vote at 16 than at 18? Evidence for the First-Time Voting Boost Among 16- to 25-Year-Olds in Austria". Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties. 24 (3): 351–361. doi:10.1080/17457289.2013.872652. ISSN 1745-7289. PMC 4864896. PMID 27226806.
  23. ^ Eichhorn, Jan (2018-04-01). "Votes At 16: New Insights from Scotland on Enfranchisement" (PDF). Parliamentary Affairs. 71 (2): 365–391. doi:10.1093/pa/gsx037. hdl:20.500.11820/5eabbc6c-27d3-43ba-a068-47469f03143b. ISSN 0031-2290.
  24. ^ Eichhorn, Jan (2018-01-02). "Beyond anecdotes on lowering the voting age: New evidence from Scotland". EUROPP. Retrieved 2023-01-20.
  25. ^ Bertocchi, Graziella; Dimico, Arcangelo; Lancia, Francesco; Russo, Alessia (2020). "Youth Enfranchisement, Political Responsiveness, and Education Expenditure: Evidence from the US". American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. 12 (3): 76–106. doi:10.1257/pol.20180203. hdl:10278/3751638. ISSN 1945-7731. OCLC 8671636869.
  26. ^ Mujani, Saiful; Liddle, R. William; Ambardi, Kuskridho (2018). Voting behavior in Indonesia since democratization : critical democrats. Cambridge. doi:10.1017/9781108377836. ISBN 978-1-108-38988-4. OCLC 1026492463.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  27. ^ Hyde, Martin (2001). Democracy education and the Canadian voting age (Thesis). University of British Columbia.
  28. ^ Wagner, Markus; Johann, David; Kritzinger, Sylvia (2012). "Voting at 16: Turnout and the quality of vote choice". Electoral Studies. 31 (2): 372–383. doi:10.1016/j.electstud.2012.01.007. PMC 4020373. PMID 24850994.
  29. ^ Stiers, Dieter; Hooghe, Marc; Goubin, Silke (2020-02-01). "Are 16-year-olds able to cast a congruent vote? Evidence from a "voting at 16" initiative in the city of Ghent (Belgium)". Electoral Studies. 63: 102107. doi:10.1016/j.electstud.2019.102107. ISSN 0261-3794.
  30. ^ a b c Wall, John (2022). "Ch. 1". Give Children the Vote: On Democratizing Democracy. London, UK. ISBN 978-1-350-19630-8. OCLC 1262678642.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  31. ^ "Avi Hein – 20th Anniversary Reflection – NYRA". 12 December 2018. Retrieved 2023-02-01.
  32. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (2011-01-07). "Kids Are Citizens, Let Them Vote". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2023-02-01.
  33. ^ "Frequently asked questions | United Nations For Youth". Retrieved 2023-02-01.
  34. ^ Weaver, Matthew (2018-12-06). "Lower voting age to six to tackle bias against young, says academic". the Guardian. Retrieved 2023-01-17.
  35. ^ Runciman, David (2021-11-16). "Votes for children! Why we should lower the voting age to six". the Guardian. Retrieved 2023-01-17.
  36. ^ The Sudbury Valley School Experience. The Sudbury Valley School. 1992. ISBN 978-1-888947-01-4.
  37. ^ Greenberg, D. (1987) The Sudbury Valley School Experience "Back to Basics – Political basics." Archived 11 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 21 February 2010.
  38. ^ "Fotenos '99 Pursues Child Suffrage". 2001-04-21. Archived from the original on 2001-04-21. Retrieved 2023-01-20.
  39. ^ Wallace, Vita (1992-04-01). "Immodest Proposals II: Give Children The Vote". Thinking: The Journal of Philosophy for Children. 10 (1): 46–47. doi:10.5840/thinking199210126.

Further reading