Monday, 24 December 2012

Why we should introduce votes at 16

I have for a long time been a supporter of votes at 16, and was recently passed an interesting document by the Votes at 16 Coalition which made a powerful case for putting the voting age in line with many of the other rights that people get at that age. I believe the positives outweigh any of the potential concerns, and that the concerns about lowering the voting age are largely exaggerated and misplaced.

The key points are copied below:

Young people in Scotland voting in the Independence referendum

The decision to lower the voting age in the upcoming Scottish referendum will newly enfranchise 8.2% of the UKs 16 and 17-year olds. This is a hugely positive step towards a more inclusive and equal political system. It must, however, only be seen as the first step. It becomes untenable to argue that one section of the UKs 16-17year olds are deemed capable of voting whilst at the same time arguing there is another section that is not. As such, allowing Scottish 16 and 17-year olds to vote in the upcoming referendum must be followed by extending this right to all young people of this age in the UK. This is an argument supported not only by their rights but also by public opinion; a recent poll carried out by the Telegraph found that 53% of the population are in favour of lowering the voting age.

It would further encourage youth democratic engagement.

There is a generation of 16 and 17 year-olds emerging from the education system that are well equipped to engage and participate in both this referendum and all further elections across the UK. Every 16 year-old receiving school education will have completed citizenship classes. This is recent education about political processes and democracy. Furthermore, thousands and thousands of 16 and 17 year-olds are already coming together to engage in direct democracy and encourage community participation and leadership:

Over 590,000 young people voted in youth election in the Academic Year 2011/2012
85% of young people go to a school with a school council so they can work with staff to improve their school.[1]

16 and 17 year-olds are knowledgeable and passionate about the world in which they live and are as capable of engaging in the democratic system as any other citizen. These are people who are already seen as capable of voting for the leader of their respective political parties; a right given to 15 year olds by both the Labour and Conservative parties. Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the UK Government is a signatory, grants every child and young person the right to express their views freely, and to have such views given due weight in all matters affecting them. The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly has urged the Committee of Ministers to encourage member states ‘to reconsider the age-related restrictions placed on voting rights in order to encourage young people’s participation in political life’.[2]

Votes at 16 will engage 16 and 17 year olds, who hold many responsibilities in our society, to influence key decisions that affect their lives and ensure youth issues are represented.

We believe it is impossible to justify the automatic and blanket exclusion of 16 and 17 year olds from the right to vote because, at 16, the law allows a person to:
  1. give full consent to medical treatment
  2. leave school and enter work or training
  3. pay income tax and National Insurance
  4. obtain tax credits and welfare benefits in their own right
  5. consent to sexual relationships
  6. get married or enter a civil partnership
  7. change their name by deed poll
  8. become a director of a company
  9. join the armed forces
  10. become a member of a trade union or a co-operative society.
Not only are 16 and 17 year olds by law able to make complex decisions and take on wide ranging responsibilities, they are also showing in practice that they want to make a positive difference. Locking them out is patronising: it relies on out-dated views about young people’s capacities.

Votes at 16 will empower 16 and 17 year olds, through a democratic right, to influence decisions that will define their future.

There are over 1,530,000 16 and 17 year olds in the UK. These young people are knowledgeable and passionate about the world in which they live, and are as capable of engaging in the democratic system as any other citizen.

Participation in free elections is a fundamental human right (protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UK’s Human Rights Act). Because of these laws the reasons for excluding people from the vote have to be fair and balanced.

16 and 17 year olds would be able to raise issues that are persistently affecting young people in their area and vote on whether the introduction of a policy would improve their area for the better.

Other countries have given their young people the right to vote. Currently you can vote at 16 if you:
  • Live on the Isle of Man, Jersey or Guernsey
  • Live in Austria
  • Live in Nicaragua, Brazil or Ecuador
  • Live in Germany and are voting in Länder or state elections
  • Live in Hungary and meet certain criteria, for example if you are married before reaching the age of 18 you have full adult legal rights and can therefore vote
  • Live in Slovenia and are employed
  • Live in Norway and are part of the 20 selected municipalities that the government has given 16-year-olds the right to vote in the September 2011 local elections, as part of a greater effort to get young people interested in politics.
Votes at 16 will inspire young people to get involved in our democracy

16 and 17 year olds today are ready to engage and participate in our democracy, having learnt the principles in compulsory citizenship education. Through being a local youth councillor, a member of a youth parliament or their student union, they are already engaging in significant numbers. The next step is Votes at 16 – a move that would empower young people to better engage in society and influence decisions that will define their future.

The Votes at 16 coalition is made up of over 70 organisations including the British Youth Council, Funky Dragon, Children’s Rights Alliance England, UNITE, UNISON, TUC, EIS, The Co-operative and the National Union of Students.