Monday, August 13, 2012

Lower the Voting Age to 16

The Free Press laments about the low voter turnout. It is a worthwhile discussion and the talk has leaned towards a mandatory vote. Perhaps in the next election, the Free Press will get all reporters on board and engaged rather than writing a column about a treehouse in the middle of the last provincial outing.

There are around 30 countries that have one and it certainly increases the voter turn out. One suspects if Australians weren't forced to the polls, they would turn out in way below 50 per cent numbers. Canada should not be so smug. We are getting closer and closer to that.

I have no idea it is a strategy of the major parties to ensure that voter suppression happens. It would appear that it is in the interest of some parties that certain people don't get out and vote. There has been evidence of this in provincial and federal elections.

It will be interesting if one political party makes mandatory voting an election promise and see what the response of the other parties is. If they disagree, perhaps they can indicate what measures they are making to not fall below have the population voting.

If making mandatory voting seems too big a step, there is an alternative to ensure that more people vote.

Lower the voting age to 16.

It has happened all over the world. Austria, Nicaragua, Brazil, Ecuador, Hungary, Slovenia, and Norway already allow 16-year-olds to vote in certain circumstances. Some cities have also changed their laws to allow voting.

If the argument is that 16 year olds are too immature and it would be dangerous, perhaps we should raise driving age to 18 years as obviously the same argument applies. Right?

The age of 16 is good for operating a vehicle. Said vehicle could kill the user and others and yet we allow the young the opportunity to manage such a responsibility.

Can someone please argue why a vote should be disallowed when driving is allowed?

Does making an argument of not allowing 16 year olds the vote smack of the same reasons why women were denied the vote?

It is time for one political party in Manitoba to change the laws provincial and municipally to lower the vote to age 16. It is time to see just how democratic and far we are. It is time to make this a teachable moment in schools and for families. It is time to stop complaining about voter turnout among the young and actually do something about it.


ekimsharpe said...

having worked with student vote over the last few elections i'd have to agree with you.

a lot of our youth are interested and enthusiastic about taking part in the electoral process. they want a voice and they want the vote.

cherenkov said...

I'm skeptical. I think we should be more worried about increase the percentage of people who vote, and not the raw numbers. There may be a minority of 16/17 y.o. teenagers who have an interest in politics, but I suspect that the ratio of non-voters in that demo will be as high or higher than the rest of the adult population.

Low turnout is a result of a tarnished political environment, and that's what we need to fix IMO, not the voting age.

John Dobbin said...

Ekim and Cherenkov: Most of the detailed studies on voter turn out suggest that if voting starts early, it becomes a habit. Young who don't vote now often become older and continue not voting. That is the pattern.

Make it a teachable moment and it becomes part of a tradition. Might not make all the difference but it will make some.

The View from Seven said...

No doubt, if voting weren't mandatory, Australian turnout numbers would collapse. Cynicism there is as widespread as it is in Canada. (Read the Wikipedia articles on MPs Sophie Mirabella and Bob Katter, or look up Jason Wood's speech on GMOs on YouTube, and it's easy to understand why.)

Mandatory voting also carries two other liabilities: the penalties for not voting would fall disproportionately on those least able to afford them, and the easiest way to avoid being fined would be to simply refuse to be enumerated.

As for a lower voting age, there's no real harm in lowering the voting age to 16 -- they're old enough to work and drive, after all. But, like Cherenkov, I think it doesn't deal with the elephant in the room that the parties would rather pretend doesn't exist: the public's lack of trust in politics, and lack of guilt for not voting.

Based on some trends I recently blogged about and the powerlessness of parties and governments to truly reverse those trends, I expect that voter turnout has some way further to drop before leveling out.

John Dobbin said...

Seven: Is it just cynicism or lack of trust or is there a lot of plain apathy, laziness and and a whole lots of other individual characteristics that mark why people don't vote.

Even if political parties tried hard and government policy was aimed square at getting people to vote, you would still have those who probably had no idea what it was all about or why it was important.