Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Should 14-Year-Olds Vote? OK, How about a Quarter of a Vote?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Should 14-Year-Olds Vote? OK, How about a Quarter of a Vote?

Article excerpt

On the sidewalk outside Toy Mandala, a local hangout where teens buy Yu-gi-oh cards and then face off for unofficial competition, the conversation turns from fantasy card games to ... politics.

"I would so vote if I could. It would be cool," says Tommy Arbor, wearing a beak cap sideways to shield his eyes from afternoon sun.

"I would be so clueless," says his opponent, who calls himself simply "Shags" and wears a SpongeBob SquarePants T-shirt. "School bonds, budgets, taxes ... what do I know about that stuff?"

The street-side back-and-forth typifies a new debate that is raising both hope and eyebrows among teens, parents, politicians, and activists from here to Washington and beyond US borders. The question: Should kids as young as 14 be able to vote?

Four California legislators proposed just that in the Golden State this week, with the twist that 14- and 15-year-olds would get only a one-quarter vote and 16- and 17-year-olds would get one- half.

The idea is being touted as a kind of electoral apprenticeship known as "Training Wheels for Citizenship," and is designed to both prod and inspire youth to participate in democracy on a kind of sliding scale - helping them to raise consciousness and take responsibility in small bites.

"We have apprenticeships in medicine, journalism, plumbing, and car driving, why not politics?" asks state Sen. John Vasconcellos (D), who wants to change the California constitution to expand youth voting. "Kids today have far more exposure to the world via media, Internet, and cellphones," he says. And he sees today's teens as ready to take more responsibility for public policies that, after all, affect them just as much as others.

The idea parallels a burgeoning youth-vote movement both in the US and abroad. Some American states now allow voting at 17, Britain has a formal proposal in Parliament this week to lower the age the age to 16, and Germany is considering giving families as many votes as there are family members. Parts of Germany and Austria allow voting at 16, and Israel has lowered its voting age to 17.

Fraction of a person?

But while Vasconcellos's idea is being taken seriously - at least as a starting point for serious debate about lowering the voting age - it is being taken to task even by supporters for parsing single votes into fractions.

"The idea of involving 14- to 17-year-olds in the political process is a good one, but the idea of treating them as fractions needs to be examined in the light of America's nasty history," says Roger Robins, a political scientist and historian at Marymount University. "We once counted slaves as three-fifths of a person, and this idea sort of interacts with that ghost in our national subconscious."

Still, the idea is also getting support from national youth- rights groups. …

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