Magazine article New Internationalist

Should 16-Year-Olds Get the Vote?

Magazine article New Internationalist

Should 16-Year-Olds Get the Vote?

Article excerpt


The extension of the franchise to 16-year-olds is not one simple idea - it's a multifaceted concept. Not only are we giving younger members of the population the vote, we are essentially awakening the politically dormant minds of young people. The ability to participate in a free election is a fundamental human right, so not only are we marginalizing young people if we deny them the vote, but we are stripping them of something they have a basic right to do. What does this say about our society?

In what way can we justify that the voice of a 3 6-year-old is more important than that of a 16-year-old? Eighty-five per cent of young people in Britain currently attend schools with their own council, and in the academic year 2011/12 over 590,000 young people voted in youth elections. There is a clear understanding of, and engagement with, democracy at a young age - this should not be ignored but encouraged, before it's too late and we lose another generation of important voters.

Do we live in a democracy if we cannot effectively involve young people? By engaging young people we are giving them a platform to be heard by enabling them to be politically active at a national level.


I agree that issues of youth citizenship are complex. This is why I have concerns about a voting age of 16 being presented as a panacea to issues of wider democratic representation and participation. If not allowing 16-year-olds to vote went against international human rights laws, most states would be guilty of denying young people a 'basic right'.

Issues of political maturity are also complex, but many young people continue to complain they lack knowledge and experience to participate fully in mainstream politics. Research by the Youth Citizenship Commission in the UK suggested citizenship education and youth representative initiatives in schools and communities are having a positive impact on political literacy and activism. However, delivery of citizenship education is in its infancy and many young people raise questions about the quality of provision in schools. Moreover, our research indicated many school councils lack the power to influence decision-making, and a postcode lottery exists regarding opportunities with youth councils and other forms of youth representation.

Focusing on lowering the voting age is a symptom-led response which does not seek to address the causes of youth democratic marginalization. Political parties, and the UK political system more widely, continue to overlook the particular interests of young people - but there is scant evidence that under-18s are clamouring to introduce votes at 16. There is a need to change the culture of our politics before we consider lowering the voting age.


Giving 16-year-olds the vote is not necessarily a way to cure young people's distaste for politics, but I believe it could be a way to incentivize political activity among young people. They should be encouraged to have more political involvement; our democracy is weak without the voice of young people.

Perhaps it's more of a confidence issue: perhaps young people believe they do not know enough about the political system because they are not welcomed to understand it. Low voting turnouts in many countries could indicate that many people feel like they don't have enough experience or knowledge to participate in mainstream politics - but we do not deny these people the vote. A person's age has no correlation with their political maturity; at 30 or 17, you can be politically active, or choose to not be. The vote means something different to everyone, but it can give young people understanding of their place in the political system.

I am in full agreement that citizenship education is vital for young people's understanding of mainstream politics. However, not everyone learns best from a classroom, and the experience of political participation is far more valuable than pen and paper. …

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