Argument: should 16-year-olds vote?

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Argument: Should 16-year-olds vote?

Andrew Mycock (university politics teacher) and Chanté Joseph (from the UK Youth Parliament) argue:

YES - Chanté

This is a big question with many different parts. If we give the vote to 16-year-olds, we also wake up young people politically. Voting is a basic human right, so, if we don’t let them vote, we cut them off and stop their basic right. What does this say about our society?

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YES: CHANTÉ JOSEPH is the Member of the Youth Parliament for Brent in northwest London, as well as regional secretary. She is on the Youth Select Committee for transport and is a member of the London Youth Involvement Project. She is 17 and is studying for the International Baccalaureate.

How can we say that the voice of a 36-year-old is more important than that of a 16-year-old? Eighty-five per cent of young people in Britain now go to schools with their own council. In the academic year 2011/12 over 590,000 young people voted in youth elections. Young people clearly understand and are interested in democracy – we should encourage this interest, not ignore it, before it’s too late and we lose another generation of important voters.

Do we live in a democracy if we cannot involve young people? If we include young people we give them a voice at a national level.

NO - Andrew

I agree that ideas of youth citizenship are complex. This is why I am worried when people say that letting 16-year-olds vote will solve all the problems of democratic representation and participation. If not allowing 16-year-olds to vote was against international human rights laws, most countries would be guilty of not giving young people a ‘basic right’.

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NO: ANDREW MYCOCK teaches Politics at the University of Huddersfield. He has written a lot about the ‘Politics of Britishness’, citizenship education policy, and democratic youth engagement. He was part of the Youth Citizenship Commission for the UK government in 2009.

Political maturity is also complex, but many young people say they don’t have enough knowledge and experience to be active in mainstream politics. The research by the Youth Citizenship Commission in the UK showed that more young people are now learning more about politics and becoming more active. This is because of citizenship education and youth representation in schools and communities. But some citizenship teaching is not very good, and is only starting now. Our research also showed that many school councils do not have the power to influence decision-making, and many areas do not have youth councils and youth representation.

If we lower the voting age, this will look at the reasons why young people are not interested in politics. Political parties, and the UK political system, do not give much importance to the interests of young people – and there is little evidence that under-18s want to vote. We need to change the culture of our politics before we think about lowering the voting age.

YES - Chanté

If we let 16-year-olds vote, this might not get all young people interested in politics, but it could encourage political activity. We need to encourage them to have more political involvement; our democracy is weak without the voice of young people.

Perhaps it’s related to confidence: perhaps young people believe they do not know enough about the political system because they are not helped to understand it. In many countries, not many people vote – maybe because they don’t have enough experience or knowledge – but we do not say these people cannot vote. A person’s age is not related to 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 help young people understand their place in the political system.

I agree that citizenship education is very important for young people’s understanding of politics. But not everyone learns best from a classroom, and involvement in politics is far more important than pen and paper.

NO - Andrew

Most young people in the UK are not very interested in the idea of voting at 16. We will not solve the problem of getting young people involved simply by lowering the voting age. If this was an easy problem to solve, why do so few 18 to 24-years-olds vote when they have the opportunity to?

Voting is only one of many different forms of political activism. We need a change in democratic politics. For example, political parties separate younger members into ‘youth’ sections. This suggests they are different from other members. Parties also often cut off young people from policy-making processes, and not many politicians give importance to youth issues. Young people over 18 are not often inspired to vote by youth-orientated policies. If we lower the voting age by two years, this would probably not make a difference.

Political parties need to encourage young people to represent others. They need to empower young people to develop more youth-focused policies. Political parties and politicians also need to change and simplify the language of politics. It is not only the act of voting which is important; it is also important to meet and support politicians and political parties. This encourages people to participate in democracy for life.

YES - Chanté

You think not many 16 and 17-year-olds would vote because of the low numbers of 18 to 24-year-olds who vote. I simply believe that voting is a basic human rights issue. You could choose to use this right at 16 and 17, and vote, or not. It is hard to see how this argument is anything more than denying young people the vote to cover up the low political engagement.

But we would all like to see much greater political engagement. Maybe 18 – 24-year-olds do not want to vote because they have had to wait so long to have their voice heard. In the British school system in Britain, people often finish their political education at 16 but may be 23 before they have the chance to vote in their first general election. It is not a surprise, when we know that voting is a habit, that if you have to wait seven years to vote, you may well lose interest.

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How young is too young to vote? (Theresa Thompson Under a CC Licence)

You also say how political parties separate younger members into ‘youth’ sections. This is true, except for voting for their leaders; you can vote from the age of 15 if you are a member of the party.

Letting 16 year-olds vote is not a general solution for political engagement. Political parties, schools, voluntary groups and society need to work together. But if you know that you would have an opportunity to really affect change, by voting in all local and general elections, this would motivate more young people to become more engaged in all aspects of politics.

NO - Andrew

What I said about the voting behaviour of 18 to 24-year-olds was more about wider issues of no interest in politics. In the UK, 18-year-olds will have to wait one year at the most to take part in local elections, but many are already not interested. This cannot be only because of the gap in citizenship education at 16 and voting at 18. The subject is taught in different ways in schools across the UK. And voting is not only a habit.

Voters need to feel that they are able to influence policy and create change. Many young people do not feel the political system gives them this, and many do not trust the politicians. If we let 16 and 17-year-olds vote, this will not resolve such issues. But more politicians now support this rather than changing their own views and practices.

People who want to lower the voting age to 16 in the UK often say that young people are able to marry, join the army or pay taxes. However, 16-year-olds are not always responsible so it is unclear why voting should be a ‘right’ at this age. Young people need permission of parents to marry or join the army at 16, and there is no minimum age for paying taxes. Also, the Youth Citizenship Commission found that the age of responsibility has actually increased over the past 30 years. If we lowered the voting age, 16 to 18-year-olds might be ‘second class’ citizens – they would be old enough to vote but too young to buy alcohol, cigarettes or fireworks and still have to rely on parents for many issues. It is this potential for a ‘two-level’ citizenship that means that, while I support your energy in campaigning for lowering the voting age, I cannot support the logic of your argument.

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://newint.org/sections/argument/2013/09/01/vote-argument/