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Published: Thursday, 11/13/2003

One kid, one vote?

Some in Germany with an interest in avoiding intergenerational conflict are proposing to give children the vote from birth. Yes, you read that correctly. The whole idea gives new meaning to the clich about politicians kissing babies, right?

But never mind. It is an idea that generates talk and thought, though it s hard to imagine Joe Kidd, the Lucas County elections director, setting up diaper-changing stations alongside the new touch-screen voting machines. Or moms and dads putting up with one-man-one-vote demands in family decision-making.

One German proposal calls for parents to vote on their kids behalf. Another says kids should vote for themselves. Evidently the point is to balance the growing power of the elderly at the polls and their opposition to any cuts in social welfare costs.

If you think the idea is loopy, consider the optimism of the 60-year-old grandfather of two, Klaus Haupt of the Free Democrats, who wants the change:

“Two hundred years ago nobody could imagine that every male citizen would be able to vote and 100 years ago people couldn t imagine that every woman should vote. Now they can t imagine that everyone should vote from birth.”

Eight German minors are already challenging their voting exclusion in court.

Things could get nasty. By 2006 some 60 percent of Germans will be older than 60. Hard lines have been drawn. The 23-year-old head of the youth organization of the Christian Democratic Union said this year that the elderly should stop taxing Germany s medical system with pricey hip replacement surgeries.

“In the past, people used to walk on crutches,” he said. Ouch.

Germany s seniors are digging in. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder s Social Democrats have lost ground since he proposed reforming the generosity of Germany s social programs. He doesn t dare advance retirement age to 67, something already in the works here. Pension freezes in place for a year have infuriated retirees.

This story is worth watching because the United States and the nations of Western Europe are graying, and facing the same problem with public pension programs. More people will be drawing on them than contribute to them - a sure way to upset the younger generation.

Giving kids the vote is not an idea whose time has come, though the debate raises economic and social problems in need of relatively quick solutions. The German public isn t convinced either. Few seem ready to give their kids the franchise.

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