By Mira Blakely
The voting age is something we don’t question and yet at 16 you can drive, you can get a job, you can pay taxes, and you can move out.
So should you be able to vote?
At the moment voting (in British Columbia) is a right for everyone 18 and over, but recently many politicians such as B.C. Green party leader Andrew Weaver (Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA) have said they support lowering the voting age to 16.
Weaver has submitted bills to lower the voting age to 16 twice.
“Young British Columbians have the greatest stake in the future of our province,” Weaver said. “They should have a say in the decisions our politicians make. Research shows that the cognitive skills required to make calm, logically informed decisions are firmly in place by age 16.”
As you may have seen, the referendum for Proportional Representation (PR) lost. Sixty-one percent of voters wanted to keep first past the post but only 42 per cent of registered voters voted in the referendum.
This is not the first time a referendum on PR has been held; in 2005, the result was 57 per cent for PR (it had to be 60 per cent for it to pass then) and in 2009 it was 60 per cent against PR. Clearly many people do want some kind of voter reform and if it’s not through PR why not lower the voting age to give more people a voice in our democracy?
One of the biggest arguments against the possibility of lowering the voting age is that at 16 you don’t know enough or don’t care about politics.
But one of the reasons some 16- and 17-year-olds don’t care about politics is because they can’t vote and they don’t feel like they get a voice.
Young people are very underestimated. For example, after the Parkland shooting, the students rose up and created the biggest youth-led movement since the Vietnam war to advocate for gun control. Most of those involved were under 18. They have made serious change in the U.S for. gun reform and also inspired so many to make change themselves.
Green party MLA Sonia Furstenau also supports lowering the voting age. She says “It works — the younger you vote in your first election the more likely you are to vote for the rest of your life. But it works the other way too — if you don’t vote in your first election it becomes easier to not vote.”
Many countries including Scotland, Austria, Argentina, Ecuador, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Brazil have a voting age of 16. In all of these countries, overall voter turnout increased among young people, which is something B.C. needs very much, considering that in the 2017 provincial election only 56 per cent of registered voters between 18-25 voted. In Austria, voter turnout among 18-25 year-olds averages 79 per cent and in Scotland, it’s 75 per cent.
Lowering the voting age isn’t the only way to increase voter turnout but it’s been one of the most effective and gives youth more of a say. However other methods that have been suggested by Minister of Finance Carole James also could work quite well.
“It’s been shown if people are registered to vote they are more likely to vote,” James said.
James’ idea was to register everyone when they are 16 so when they turn 18 they don’t have to worry about it and they would receive a voter card. Education Minister Rob Fleming (Victoria-Swan Lake) also supported registering young people and getting them involved in politics.
However, he didn’t seem to think now is the right time to lower the voting age.
“I would worry if we just lower the voting age to 16 we would see fewer young people will vote but certainly it’s not something I’m against in principle. I just think right now our job is to focus on getting 18 to 25-year-olds to vote.
It was the NDP who lowered the voting age in 1992 from 19 and they lowered it to the current age of 18.
B.C. Liberal party leader Andrew Wilkinson didn’t give any suggestions for increasing voter turnout but he did have much to say on the possibility of lowering the voting age.
“A change to the voting age deserves serious attention. It’s something the B.C. Liberals would be happy to consider if we form government again.”
This is great, however, the Liberals were in power from 2001 until 2017 (16 years). In this time they never once considered lowering the voting age.
Premier John Horgan said the NDP are working with the Green party regarding lowering the voting age.
“If it’s the will of the people. We will be looking into the voting age in the new year.”
There are many arguments for and against. Just remember, 16-year-olds are smarter than you think and they deserve a say in what happens to all of us.
– Mira Blakely is a Grade 9 student at Reynolds secondary school.