Controversial and contentious, the subject of lowering the voting age is one that can spark quarrelsome debate. Some people, usually older and more conservative, argue that we should stick with the status quo, while others, usually more liberal in their views, observe that if a 16- year-old is allowed to have a baby and (in some cases) even expected to pay tax, then why should they be banned from voting? Meanwhile, a small minority argue that although the age of 18 should remain for general elections, the age should be lowered for referendums as they are once-in-a-generation votes and their outcomes cannot simply be reversed in 5 years’ time (unless of course, you happen to live in Scotland).
Since being elected last month as the Member of Youth Parliament for Medway, one of the most regular questions I have been asked is “do you think votes at 16 is a good idea?” In this article I hope to convey, as simply as possible, my views on the subject and the precautions I feel would have to be put in place were this to be put in effect.
As a 15-year-old, politically engaged student you may imagine that I would very much like the vote and would subsequently support votes at 16. But, in fact, only half of that statement is true. Of course I would like the vote, in my view it is almost a rite of passage which demonstrates maturity and a readiness to embrace the responsibilities of adulthood. I am, by no means, fundamentally against the idea of votes at 16, but I feel that the disillusionment of young people and the general lack of understanding about the political process would lead to young voters making misinformed decisions based upon trivial and insignificant factors. Those who support votes at 16 often argue that it would improve youth engagement, but I would propose that the only way to truly achieve this would be to implement far better political education in schools across the country. This needn’t focus around ideologies or policies of various parties, but should instead teach about how the British democratic system works and how young people can hold their elected representatives to account.
Arguably there is even less reason to raise the voting age now than there was just a few decades ago. Twenty years ago, a 16-year-old could well have moved out, got themselves a full-time job, and would be embarking on the first stages of adult life – events which these days often don’t occur until your mid-20s. The ages at which you can leave school and can purchase cigarettes have both been raised in the last few years, so to reduce the voting age would seem to completely contradict the general direction of British policy-making in this period. If we are not allowed to legally enjoy a Rum and Coke or rent “The Exorcist,” then surely it is completely illogical to allow us to vote? I would feel far more inclined to support votes at 16 if other laws that affect young people were re-prioritised. We live in a country where you must be 18 to view pornography, but can consent to sexual activities at 16. Where you can’t play “Call of Duty” until you’re 18, but can join the army at 16.
There is no doubt that this issue will continue to cause controversy in the future, especially in the months leading up to that all important referendum. Currently, I’m undecided on which side I will be campaigning, but there are plenty of important ways that engaged youths can become involved in the referendum without necessarily being given the vote. Ultimately, as long as no educational precautions have been put in place, the current voting age should remain. Voting is a privilege and should be seen as such. Indeed, I would urge more adults to view it in this light too. That would be a fitting tribute to all those that have fought so hard to save our democracy.