When I teach American Political Thought, I close with what always turns out to be a vigorous class discussion on Michael S. Cummings essay “On Children’s Right to Vote”* which is a brief, uncompromising case for extending the franchise to those under 18. My pedagogical reason is clear–they’ve all had the luxury of being casually correct and shaking their heads in dismay at the various arguments and justifications for *not* extending the franchise and full citizenship to various oppressed groups. Reading this essay, rightly or wrongly, tends to put most of them on the side of tradition and exclusion. Even those who are 100% convinced the proposal is insane tend to find this new position they find themselves in rather uncomfortable.
But I want to talk briefly about Cummings argument (sorry, it’s not available online) because it’s surprisingly seductive. I’ll summarize it in a series of premises:
1) The exclusion of any group from the franchise requires positive justification, as exclusion based on tradition has a poor track record.
2) The argument that children would take the responsibility of voting less seriously than other groups is an argument we’d reject out of hand if applied to other groups, even if it were empirically demonstrable.
3) The argument that children generally aren’t full economic citizens with jobs and taxes is a) often untrue and more often partially true, and b) is also true of many adults, but we’d never tolerate arguments to disenfranchise the chronically unemployed or dependent adults, and c) is perhaps the point.