One of the fundamental features of any democracy is the right to vote. People, throughout human history, have gone to great lengths to secure this right, as being able to choose your representative is a very powerful act indeed. Often overlooked in this debate of enfranchisement are minors, who are directly impacted by the government’s policy decisions, but lack the right to choose them. Should they also not have the agency to choose their preferred leaders? Lately, the debate on lowering the age of voting has been picking pace and rightly so. What then, are the reasons to justify their exclusion?
Well, to begin with, critiques argue that minors lack the capacity to make decisions that are in their best interest and by that logic, in country’s best interest. They believe their cognitive development is not adequate for voting. Another reason often propounded is that they lack the political ‘experience’. Their exposure to ‘socio-political’ content is meagre which might cause hindrance in making informed decisions. Furthermore, it has been a quotidian belief that adolescents are gullible and can be easily manipulated. This, critiques argue might prove to be calamitous for democracy as politicians can then influence the adolescents according to their whims and fancies. This can prove to be counterproductive for many other groups as adolescents are a large percentage of the vote bank and can have a decisive impact on the electoral results. They lack the necessary motivation too for catalysing change according to some.
The problem with such arguments, critiques oft-times overlook, is that these can hold true for a major part of the adult population as well. These limitations are not just related to minors. Each and every one of us is constantly being manipulated by politicians via social media, and many adults lack the socio-political awareness too, but the right to vote has been conferred upon adults regardless. If adults are also put under such microscopic scrutiny just as adolescents, many of them might lose their entitlement to vote. Adolescents not being exposed to ‘socio-political’ content and not being adequately motivated to take part in this process is a failure of the lawmakers and not adolescents themselves. These arguments tend to provoke thoughts about whether such treatment towards minors is unjust, unfair and outright discriminatory. Recent research on adolescent brain development has also shown that a 16 years old is capable of cold cognition just like adults, making adolescents equally equipped for informed decision making when voting.
This asymmetry in the political arena needs to be get done with. The right to vote is a human right. It gives everyone an equal standing in society and minors shouldn’t be deprived of this. They are actively contributing in most fields where adults are present. Quite a few of them are earning a livelihood for their family just like adults. Sachin Tendulkar, who represented India on the international stage and many others who will represent or are already representing our country at the global stage countless of times, enduring immense pressure on a daily basis yet performing so well. They are still thought of to be not mature enough to cast a vote. They are expected to follow the law but lack a say in the decision-making process. They are good voters too, as can be seen in the voter turnout of the Norway and Austria elections, where the voters aged 16-17 years had a higher turnout rate than older voters.
In a democracy, there are no wrong votes. People cannot be expected to perpetually vote intelligently. If this was the case half of us would lose this right. Each country should take up steps to incorporate minors in the electoral process as their choice matters too, intelligent or not. Young people exemplify responsibility, maturity and knowledge comparable to other voters and hence they justifiably deserve the right to vote.
Saptarshi Gargari holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from University of Delhi. He’s profoundly fascinated with the working of a Political environment and International Relations. An avid non-fiction reader and a trained athlete/cricketer, Saptarshi wears multiple hats in and around his daily life. An excellent communicator and a patient researcher.