In November 2014, Manuela Schwesig, the Minister of Family Affairs, made people stand up and take notice, when she backed calls for a child's right to vote through representation by their parents. Supporters of a child's right to vote, believe children have just as equal a right to vote as any adult. This right would be executed by their legal guardians in the event of an election.
Representation by proxy is not unusual in other areas of life. Children are legal subjects from the moment they are born and can be taxpayers, owners, tenants or stockholders (with the right to vote), whose affairs are executed by parents or other legal guardians, until they reach the legal age of majority.1
The Social Democrat Federal Minister is not alone in making this recommendation. Other prominent Social Democrats, such as Lore Maria Peschel-Gutzeit, Peter Schulz (the former Mayor of Hamburg) and Wolfgang Thierse, have long supported similar initiatives. The broad range of political stripes in support of such measures, also includes leading Liberals like the former FDP Minister Dirk Nebel, Otto Solms and the Industry Consultant Roland Berger.
In the past, leading Catholic officials, such as the Bishop of Fulda Dyba and Cardinal Lehmann, have also signalled their support. This has also included, Conservative politicians from the Christian Democrats and the former Federal President Roman Herzog, as well as Gerd Müller, who has served as Minister of Economic Cooperation since 2013. Within the federal Green Party, the idea that children should have the right to vote via proxy, was invented as early as the 1990s, by Antje Vollmer and Werner Schulz. Leading representatives within the right-wing "Alternative for Germany Party", such as Konrad Adam and Hans Olaf Henkel, have also voiced their support for children's voting rights.
The hopes held for such a reform are markedly diverse. It would create a 20% increase in voters and the cumulative weight of their voice, would have a significant impact on the content of future election campaigns and government policies. The advocates of children voting by proxy via their parents, hope that it would increase the emphasis on:
- The interests of families with children (e.g. child benefits and the number of hours parents have to work).
- The interests of younger generations in society, increasingly dominated by an aging population (e.g. spending on education and pension policy).
- Future-oriented and sustainable perspectives in political decision-making
(e.g. limiting debt, environmental and climate policy).
However, these expectations should be considered naive, because they do not take into account the fact that childless and older voting groups will react to such attempts to steer political policy. Additionally, other political candidates in the voting market, will show support for these groups' particular needs and will mobilise them accordingly.
In short, one can expect that the result of a law allowing parents to vote for their children, would produce exactly the opposite situation, to what supporters claim is their political desire to achieve.
Furthermore, such a right to vote, will likely prompt a mental shift amongst the increasing number of people without children and single people. They would clearly see the flaw within the voting system, that politics is doing its best to address in the interests of families and children. This will lead them to intentionally vote in an "anti-child" manner. They would no longer feel like victims of a family lobby. Victims, whose tax dollars, should pay for the costs associated with increasing burdens created by families. In short, one can expect that the result of a law allowing parents to vote for their children, would produce exactly the opposite situation, to what supporters claim is their political desire to achieve.
A lottery for "children's voices"
In light of the above, a different variant known as an "aleatory children's right to vote" (from the Latin alea, the die in a game of dice), can be brought into play. The basic idea is that the act of representing the child's voting voice, should not be left to parents or other legal representatives. Instead, every child's "voice" would be placed into a large "lottery machine" and drawn and distributed amongst those who are entitled to vote. Naturally, only those voters who are permitted to cast votes can "win" one (and only one) child's vote per draw. This way, enabling children's right to vote is deliberately kept random.
In one sense, this variant makes it more democratic. It fits better with the demands, often cited during debates, on voting rights for generality and equality in democratic electoral law. This is because the responsibility of voting by proxy, is taken out of the hands of parents and other legal representatives.
However, more importantly, there is another advantage which reacts to, and even eradicates, the aforementioned problem with previous models of children's voting rights. This advantage is, that single people and those without children, might react by consciously and markedly voting in an "anti-family" and "anti-child" fashion.
Let's imagine the following hypothetical scenario: Single people and those without children, occasionally receive the chance to cast a "child's vote", via the lottery computer. The computer only provides two basic facts about the child; age and gender (although gender may not be provided). They have various options for dealing with the votes that have been given to them. It would be expected that before casting their votes, they would engage with the interests, concerns and needs of children in the respective age group, and allow these considerations to influence how they vote.
Parents of children to whom the computer has assigned the vote of a completely different child, would likely engage in a similar reflective process. In both cases, the aleatory system of assigning votes would ensure that voters reach their decisions behind a "veil of ignorance" (in the view of John Rawls), but also one that is transparent enough to ensure that the general interests of children remains of particular importance amongst voters.
Even though such positive expectations for an aleatory children's right to vote, may at first appear to be little more than optimistic speculation, it would be a matter of seeing how it works in practice. However, this would require a will, not only towards democratic experimentation, but also towards creative interpretation of the current constitutional bases of German Federal Electoral Law.
 According to § 104 No. 1 of German Federal Law, children are not legally competent until they are seven years old. Between the ages of seven and eighteen, they are considered to possess limited legal competence, which means that they can only engage in affairs that benefit them without their parents' consent, as per § 107 of German Federal Law. Only once they reach the legal age of majority, may they conduct affairs that may be disadvantageous or risky.