Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Expanding the Franchise

The BBC carries a couple of recent sort regarding extension of voting rights.

This one refers to European rulings to the effect that a blanket ban on human rights contravenes human rights. The idea of giving some people, serving minor sentences, the vote doesn't seem so terrible to me. Indeed, given that we only have General Elections every 4-5 years, one could say it's unfair that some people serving a two year sentence will get to vote while others won't, simply because of when the election happens to fall in relation to their sentence. Perhaps this consideration could guide a distinction between those that do and do not lose their voting rights - i.e. anyone serving four years or fewer should still get to vote. But this isn't something I've given much thought to.

This piece covers the debate around extending voting rights to those aged 16 or 17, as the SNP proposes for the Scottish Independence Referendum. It's interesting to hear (or read) arguments on both sides, but I think some deserve commenting on.

Grant Costello argues that we allow 16 year olds to make important decisions, such as getting married. This is true, but doesn't necessarily mean we should allow them to vote: we might think they should be allowed to make (potentially bad) decisions over their own lives, but aren't fit to be trusted with power over others. (He does mention starting families, but aside from non-identity type reasons to deny that this harms the child, we can presumably trust to natural parental inclinations here.)

Philip Cowley argues that those aged 16 or 17 can often only exercise rights, such as to get married, with parental permission. This is interesting, but not necessarily enough to support his position. We could say that these teenagers should be able to vote with parental permission then (and, without permission, from age 18). Or we could argue that electoral outcomes will depend on 16 and 17 year olds in conjunction with their elders.


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