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Social Affairs: Lowering the Voting Age

Should the UK, nationwide, lower the voting age to sixteen?

There is a debate to be had. Arguments both for and against. We should however, listen to what young people have to say as we live in a democratic society and since I am still sixteen myself, I do feel qualified to express my view. The voting age should be lowered to the age of sixteen because increasingly, even at this young age, people are more able and in many ways are already treated like adults.

For example, we have the ability to choose our immediate future, whether planning to stay at school and enter the sixth form, or to attend college – we may even already be a tax payer and in that instance, surely should have the right to have say in who we elect as our representatives in Parliament. In 2017 it was reported by some media sources that 1.5 million sixteen and seventeen year olds were too young to vote, yet for one reason or another, were subject to paying tax.

There is of course another argument, in that if a sixteen-year-old is mature enough and old enough to have sex and become a mother or father, and thus have the right to decide their child’s future, then sixteen and seventeen-year-olds are mature enough to vote. Those same teenage Parents may also wish to get married and therefore the same question applies; if they are trusted to do these things then surely they can vote and be able to have some influence over key decisions that will affect their lives. I may or may not be typical of my age group, that is for others to say but along with most people of my age, our concerns cover things like tuition fees, the living wage and youth service cuts. These are aspects to life that are commonly ignored nowadays by politicians and those with influence – most people of my age tend to think that it is the politician who acts like little children in a nursery, given their behaviour in parliament and the tantrums displayed over Brexit.

The debate over the voting age does not of course, apply quite so much to Scotland, which already has allowed their young to vote at the age of sixteen and seventeen, and the validity of this has been well proven with large voter turnouts of people in the younger age groups. Around the rest of the United Kingdom although it was quite high for the Brexit referendum, turnout at elections has been very low and this is entirely due to the fact that the electorate do not trust selected candidates as their MP. This lack of trust is not really a surprise as many feel those candidates have never done anything to earn that trust. People feel their vote and voice don’t count, and this is especially noticeable among younger people.

Back in 2004, the Electoral Commission – the independent body in charge of running and monitoring local and general elections – ran an in-depth study into whether the voting age in Britain should be lowered to sixteen or remain at eighteen. The results showed that the majority of those surveyed wanted the voting age to stay at eighteen. Most countries in fact, also set their voting age at eighteen and the survey acknowledged that arriving at a single definition of ‘maturity’ is difficult, which bolstered the argument for retaining eighteen as the age of adulthood. The commission also said it would be reviewing voting ages again in five to seven years.

There is another question over this however; could it possibly be that those who are currently in authority don’t want to widen the scope as they know the possibility exists that a strong youth voter turnout might jeopardise their positions – a ‘safe’ seat may no longer be quite as safe as it had been.

At local level especially, the argument against voting at sixteen is particularly strong but this is because it would add more power to the young in an area where many councillors have been established in their positions for, in some cases, decades, hence their unwillingness to see their grip loosened should a greater number of younger people become seriously interested in politics.

Despite my view, which may not count for much in the greater scheme of things, (although I am not alone in my thinking) there are others who believe that eighteen – the age of legal majority - is still too young an age at which individuals can start voting in elections. Instead, some argue that the vote should not come along until young people are in their twenties, once they've gained some life experience, are more certain to be paying taxes, and can think independently. Obviously I disagree and it may be worth pointing out that the ‘wait-until-twenty-one-or-even-older’ view could possibly breach the Equality Act 2010, which outlaws discrimination, including that against age. I will be the first to concede that, yes there will be kids who still mess around but then adults, including those of more mature ages, aren’t always sensible either.

Perhaps the last words might best be left to others:

‘A sixteen year old can pay tax or be sent to fight for their country, but they are currently refused the right to vote for the politicians who can decide how to spend their taxes, or send them off to war’.

(Andrew, Merseyside)

‘Funnily enough I campaigned for the voting age to be lowered years ago. I think that it gives youngsters more of an investment in what's happening. However, I also think voting should be compulsory as it is in other countries, for example Australia’.

(Nick, Dartford)

‘I believe that the sixteen-year-olds that would vote would be a self-selecting, politically interested minority who would add real value to the political discourse’.

(Dan F, Edinburgh).

‘Not particularly passionate about it but I can understand that some sixteen and seventeen year-olds really want to and are just as informed as older adults (in some cases more so), so let them vote. Most people who vote haven't got a clue about politics anyway’.

(Jon, Coventry)

© Lee Sibley 2019.

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