Past, Present and Future
Edited by David Keane and Yvonne McDermott
Chapter 14: Free and Fair Elections for Some? The Potential for Voting Rights for Under-18s
14. Free and fair elections for some? The potential for voting rights for under-18s Aoife Daly Well, I called my congressman And he said, quote, ‘I’d like to help you, son But you’re too young to vote’ Eddie Cochran, Summertime Blues, 1958 In a democracy, the right to vote is the ultimate characteristic of citizenship. Even where its practical value is arguable, it is a symbolic confirmation of one’s status as citizen. Yet a number of exclusions from enfranchisement have existed in various places and times. These have included women, slaves, those without property, and particular ethnic groups. Similarly, age limits persist; setting the age of 18 as the voting age is common practice1 and it is confirmed to an extent within international human rights law. The right to vote is not included explicitly in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child for example, although Article 12 goes some way towards addressing the traditional invisibility of under-18s in the political sphere. Article 12 enshrines the ‘right to be heard’ of children, stipulating that states ‘shall assure’ that right to a child once he or she is capable of forming his or her own views. Children must be able to express those views freely in all matters affecting them, and crucially those views must be given due weight ‘in accordance with the age and maturity of the child’. It is no longer sufficient, therefore, to assume that under-18s are incapable of contributing to decision-making processes. Article 12 reflects increasing...
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