Youth's Battle for the Ballot: A History of Voting Age in America

By Wendell W. Cultice | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Youth Suffrage: A Global Concern (1791-1971)

You will make all kinds of mistakes, but as long as you are generous and true, and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even distress her. She was made to be wooed and won by youth.

-- Winston S. Churchill

Nearly 3 billion people in the world in 1971 were organized into about 150 entities of a political nature that claimed, and were accorded internationally for the most part, a national status of a sovereign nature. Of the total nations, about 95 percent had written or unwritten constitutions containing electoral laws that enfranchised and disenfranchised certain members of the individual sovereign states. Not the least among the many and varied electoral laws, history showed, was the qualification of chronological age. The legal minimum voting ages of Athens (18) and Rome (25) would indicate that the controversy concerning the age of qualification for exercising the suffrage is nearly as old as the democratic type of government itself.

On the European continent, and especially in Scandinavia, the legal voting age embraced in the original laws governing the electors of the candidates for the newly formed representative governments was predominantly higher than 21 years. The original constitutions of more than a dozen countries called for a minimum suffrage age qualification of 25; several stipulated 30 or more years. In practically all these countries there existed in the beginning a severe test of residence, property, tax-paying, literacy, or educational qualification, as well as numerous exclusions.

This chapter shows that the idea of lowering the voting age is not a unique proposal that was conceived in the United States to promote the political aspirations of some liberal group. Rather, the idea was conceived and practiced throughout the world during the nineteenth century, accelerated during

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