Is giving under-18s their fair say a good idea, or would it distract from a bigger problem?by Oliver Sidorczuk, Claire Fox / April 23, 2015 / Leave a comment
Should we lower the voting age to 16?
Oliver Sidorczuk—Director at Bite the Ballot
Votes for 16 and 17 year olds across the United Kingdom, for all elections and referendums, transformed from an “if” to a “when” issue on 15th October 2012 when David Cameron and Alex Salmond signed the Edinburgh Agreement.
This agreement enabled around 100,000 under-18s to have their say in the first official contest where the franchise had been reduced to 16: the Scottish independence referendum. And less excitingly, though they’ve been historically opposed to the idea, Conservatives in the UK government also recently legislated to empower the Welsh assembly to determine whether 16 and 17 year olds should have the right to vote in an income tax referendum. Not exactly a cause close to many teenagers’ hearts, but a significant milestone nonetheless.
This movement towards votes at 16 is important, and perhaps vital, to the future survival of UK democracy. It’s also fair, not least because the government is quite happy to allow the 1.5m 16-17 year olds denied the vote to get married and pay national insurance and tax. Locking these people out of the decision-making processes that determine their future isn’t just patronising, it’s illogical. Are we expecting them to wake up on their 18th birthday and shoot off a voter registration application?
However, the organisation I work for, Bite the Ballot—which encourages youth participation in politics—attaches two important conditions. Yes, let’s lower the voting age, but—and it’s an important but—if it isn’t accompanied by active, empowering citizenship education, and voter registration in schools and colleges, then votes at 16 will never be the runaway success that they can be. Let’s get these policies right. Let’s empower every young person with the knowledge to make informed decisions at the ballot box. And let’s give them the opportunity to spark their democratic journey by registering to vote in school. Then, and only then, will we see record youth turnout of 16-24 year olds in all elections.
Claire Fox—Director of the Institute of Ideas
The key question for me is: why…