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And how about adding a freehold property qualification too…

In 1971, the United States ratified the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. In retrospect, that may have been a mistake.

The idea, in those Vietnam War years, was that 18-year-olds, being old enough to be drafted, to marry and to serve on juries, deserved a vote. It seemed plausible at the time, and I myself have argued that we should set the drinking age at 18 for the same reasons.

But now I’m starting to reconsider. To be a voter, one must be able to participate in adult political discussions. It’s necessary to be able to listen to opposing arguments and even — as I’m doing right here in this column — to change your mind in response to new evidence.

This evidence suggests that, whatever one might say about the 18-year-olds of 1971, the 18-year-olds of today aren’t up to that task. And even the 21-year-olds aren’t looking so good.

Glenn Reynolds

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27 comments to And how about adding a freehold property qualification too…

  • PeterT

    Plenty of old people are idiots too.

  • Yes they are Peter. So like the title suggests, also add a property owning qualification to at least require voters to have something to lose.

  • David Crawford

    Perry, how about a requirement that a person has paid taxes in order to vote? Those who pay for government should be the ones that decide who runs it.

  • woodsy42

    Don’t you mean property owning men, after all it’s uncertain if women are biologically adaped to understand things as complicated as politics? (runs for cover…. I’m joking honest)

  • Perry, how about a requirement that a person has paid taxes in order to vote?

    We all pay sales/excise taxes. So obviously you mean a net tax payer as opposed to somebody being a net tax taker.

    As long as you don’t try to exempt the military for being the “right” sort of net tax taker.

  • TimRules

    How about $1 / one vote? You get one vote for each dollar you pay in taxes …

  • Laird

    I thought dropping the voting age to 18 was a bad idea at the time (and I was 19 then). And it’s still a bad idea. The whole “if you’re old enough to die for your country you’re old enough to vote” argument never made any rational sense.

    We should probably increase the voting age to 35. That wouldn’t solve all our problems, but we wouldn’t be talking about Bernie Sanders today, either.

  • RRS

    This may not be the “issue” it is made out to be.

    What percentage of people in various categories are registered to vote?

    What percentage of each category actually vote?

    In what elections, on what questions do they vote?

    Closer examination will probably disclose that such participation in the process has been abdicated by all categories to an astounding degree.

    Democracy is not a condition that that results from the actions of particular participants in determinations. Democracy is a label for a variety of processes which include various forms of participation.

    How and to what end we determine participation eligibility in that process does effect the resulting condition of the process.

    For what ends have we moved toward “universal” suffrage for a republic or for a parliamentary government? What has determined the selection of those ends?

    Those two questions may be the real issue.

  • *shrug*

    Excluding people from voting merely because you don’t like the way they vote never seemed all that rational in the long term to me. The days when I would have given the vote to 12 year olds on the grounds that they couldn’t possibly be much worse with it then the supposed adults are behind me now, but not by very much (These days I’d want them to be 14 or 16 before letting them vote). Young people do seem to have a better track record of growing out of their mistakes then their elders do. ^_~

  • David Moore

    I’m generally of the opinion that if you want a more rational outcome from elections your better off replacing the voters with a lottery.

  • @ Ted Schuerzinger,

    “As long as you don’t try to exempt the military for being the “right” sort of net tax taker.”

    I would exempt them without a second thought and without a moment’s hesitaton. When it comes to taxes blood is it’s own currency. As long as we are talking alternate voting systems I suppose I may as well mention Robert Heinlein’s “Starships Troopers” system where only those who had served in the military for 20 years were allowed to vote. But I wonder how many people would be so eager to narrow the voting list if it turned out that they were among those who were excluded from being able to vote? With the possible exception of two John W. Campbell plans (Only one of which I can remember off the top of my head), most of these ideas I’ve seen were always aimed at eliminating someone other then the person making the proposal. <_<

  • Lee Moore

    Here’s my reform :

    1. House of Commons – voting age stick with 18, but only in person voting allowed – no proxies, no postals. Stick with FPTP. Boundary Commission appointed by HoL.

    2. House of Lords – elected every four years, by citizens who have been eligible to vote in HoC elections for not less than fifteen years.. You must pay a 2,000 pound voting tax to vote. Voting tax is fully creditable against income tax paid in the four years since the last election – ie you only need to have paid roughly 500 pounds a year in income tax, but you have to have paid something. (You’ll get a voucher when you pay your income tax, so you can settle your voting tax with the voucher and not have to shell out extra cash and then claim it back.)

    3. Parliament Act – either House can enact “liberalising” Acts without the other’s consent. A “liberalising” Act is one that removes a legal restriction on the actions (or inactions) of citizens, and does not impose any legal restriction on any citizen. Or one that reduces such a restriction without increasing one too. Or reduces the penalty for a violation of such a restriction.

    4. Judiciary – appointed by HoL. Supreme Court remains final arbiter of actual cases, but Judicial Committee of HoL can, on appeal, reverse precedents set by Supreme Court judgements.

  • Myno

    Being a Yank, I once proposed that you come into the voting booth and are confronted with a knowledge test of the Constitution (including all active amendments). Given a randomly selected sequence of 8 words therefrom, provide the next one. For each correct answer, you get another vote, up to a max of 100. Of course I’d rather use the Declaration, but it’s not long enough.

  • Patrick Crozier

    In Britain in 1906 the franchise was still limited to property-owning men over the age of 21. That didn’t stop them electing a government that introduced old-age pensions, minimum wages, sickness benefits, unemployment benefit (for some industries), nationalised the telephones and nationalised a large proportion of the country’s GPs.

    Yes, the franchise should be restricted but it is not a panacea.

  • James Hargrave

    Though things were held in check from 1906 to 1908 by having Campbell-Bannerman as PM. It was after the boy wonders were given their head under Asquith that the real fun begins.

  • Pardone

    If you can be sent off to fight wars, you should definitely be able to vote. To suggest anything else is obscene.

    Old folk often live off of the young and are a burden so actually have the least right to vote as they contribute the least.

    If you are from a foreign country you should not be able to vote.

  • Chip

    Sometimes I think the Left today understands the economic principle of incentives better than the middle and right.

    They built a welfare state and have invited the world to use it and vote for it.

    It’s a pragmatic understanding of human nature while the right and libertarians mumble about philosophy and big picture ideas that will never resonate with the grasping majority.

  • pete

    Ted, the military and other public employees are net taxpayers just like anyone else.

    Public employees sell their labour to the government.

    That is no different to selling your labour to a private company.

  • Pete: I don’t believe in limiting the franchise to net taxpayers. I was trying to make the point that whenever that suggestion is made, you have people arguing that some subset of the net tax takers should be exempted, because they’re the right sort of people.

    I actually thought about name-dropping Heinlein in my first comment, since I knew somebody would bring up his proposal as a good idea. Of course, my views are probably colored by being in the US, where there’s an increasing (and repulsive) perception that serving the state in a military capacity is both sufficient and necessary for being called a hero.

  • Roue le Jour

    If you want Western civilization to survive then you need a demos that also wants it to survive. If you don’t care whether it survives or not then by all means let every Tom Dick and Harriet vote.

    And no, Pete, public sector employees shouldn’t vote because they have a vested interest in higher taxes and bigger government. It’s a moral hazard to allow people to vote themselves other peoples money.

    However, if you got the state out of the education, health and broadcasting businesses there wouldn’t be enough of them to matter.

  • Slartibartfarst

    If I was coming up to whatever the voting age was, then the last thing I would welcome would be that a bunch of arrogant and irrational bigots could decree the changing hoops that I must pass through before being allowed the franchise to vote – and especially as regards hoops that they never had to pass through.

  • Lee Moore

    pete : “Ted, the military and other public employees are net taxpayers just like anyone else. Public employees sell their labour to the government.”

    In some cases, but not all. It’s all a question of whether the wages are comparable to those set in a market. Where the government pays more than that, it’s just a government handout. For some government jobs – eg nurses, teachers, soldiers, policemen, even judges – if the government didn’t provide them, the market would, at wages not wildly dissimilar to what the government pays*. But for others – heading up the Equality Commission for example – it’s highly unlikely that such a job would exist in a free market, since in a free market there almost certainly wouldn’t be an Equality Commission. Before one – or its precursors – was set up by the government there was little sign of the market wanting spontaneously to create one. Of course there are charity and campaign groups, and the market certainly creates that kind of thing, but many of those are government pensioners these days too.

    * in many cases, the market would pay more than the government pays, but would expect a lot more labour and a lot better productivity for the money. So for a lot of public employees, there’s still a lot of overpaying going on.

  • PeterT

    Yes Perry, I appreciated that.

    There is no way the franchise can be restricted now. I have heard the idea that lowering the voting age could be used to counteract the power of the pensioner voting block. Of course, students and pensioners might just gang up on working age voters.

    Whilst I agree with restricting voting to net taxpayers – or just non-government employees – any group that is sufficiently large enough seems likely to contain its fair share of left wingers. Certainly there are plenty at work, even though its in the private sector (and in the City).

  • Paul Marks

    Young Americans tend to say that it is O.K. to restrict Freedom of Speech if the restriction is to prevent verbal “attacks on minorities”.

    Think about that – they do not even believe in the First Amendment (let alone the 2nd or the 10th Amendment).

    That is what the modern “education system” has led to.

    And the modern “media” also – especially the entertainment media.

  • Alisa

    RRS nails it (again). In the past couple of US presidential elections, just over half of the eligible voters actually voted, with just over half of those voting for Obama. And that latter half (roughly just over a quarter of all eligible voters) consisted of people of all ages.

    Patrick also makes an interesting point, but I am not familiar with the historical background to judge whether his comment describes a fluke or something more inherent in the system.

  • Richard Thomas

    I would have this qualification:

    If you receive any income from the government *at all* you are disqualified from voting. Yes, this includes all the groups that people will bitch about.

    The only question is as to whether tax rebates count as income. That’s open to discussion but the easiest answer in my mind is, yes they do. Just make it an option to opt out on the tax form. If you don’t, you don’t get to vote. Such rebates would soon disappear under such a scheme anyway.

  • lucklucky

    Just to point that Glenn Reynolds was challenged by a reader that pointed the behavior of older people in Universities are even worse and he changed his stance.