Political debate: should the voting age be reduced to 16?

The Labour party has accused the Government of filibustering an amendment seeking to lower the voting age to 16.

The private member’s bill proposed by backbench Labour MP, Jim McMahon, sought to give all 16-year-olds the right to vote in general elections, local elections and referendums.

Ill-tempered debate ensued in the chamber, forcing the Deputy Speaker to interject “this is not a football match.” Tory MP Philip Davies mockingly suggested that Labour would enfranchise 10-year-olds if it could and the bill was ultimately blocked from progressing to a vote by the Conservatives and their allies.

We have put this divisive issue to some of our writers, as we ask: should the voting age be lowered to 16?


YES: 16 year olds deserve a say in their future

By Eric Sargent

The act of voting is central to the legitimacy of any healthy democracy. When the state regulates the manner in which individuals are free to live their lives, it is your capacity to influence these rules and regulations that separates democracy from tyranny. The British government determines how vital services like the NHS function, how our armed forces should be used to protect us, what fundamental rights individuals have, as well as many other things. These questions are of no lesser importance to a 16 year old than anyone else, that we should deny them a chance to contribute their voice on any one of these issues is absurd.

Voting is central to the legi1timacy of any healthy democracy

Already a great deal of trust is placed in 16 year olds. In the eyes of the law 16 year olds are mature enough to marry, to consent, to enlist, to gamble, they are but a year off from being allowed to drive. Each of these things have dramatic repercussions both for the individual and for society, but we permit them to do these things because they are not children, because
they can handle it.

One’s right to vote, to engage in democracy is completely, totally, inalienable

Even if, in some few instances, we cannot trust some to vote responsibly; age is no great way of limiting this. Indeed if our greatest concern was having responsible voters, we should presumably test voters of all ages for their responsibility before we allow them to vote. But we do not, because one’s right to vote, to engage in democracy is completely, totally, inalienable.


NO: The minimum voting age should remain 18

By Nathan Cinnamond

What should be rightly established at the head of this debate is that both sides agree such a concept as a ‘voting age’ should exist. That is, below a certain age one is, by one metric or another, unfit to cast a ballot. What we are then discussing is at what age we suspect the typical person becomes able to contribute a meaningful vote.

Certain rights must be earned rather than assumed

To the proposition I ask: why 16? The initial response is naturally framed around the presumption of rights. ‘If 16-year olds can work full time, pay income tax and have consensual sex then they ought to have the right to vote!’ Proponents are conceding much more than they should care to, for an argument like this must be made in principle. 16-year-olds cannot, with equal justification, buy alcohol or drive a car, so the argument for ‘consistency’ cannot be made without arguing to lower the legal age for these activities as well.

The average individual below 18 years does not have the necessary first-hand life experience to consider most, if not all, of the pledges of a party-political manifesto

Now that we have established that certain rights must be earned rather than assumed, I would like to make the bold statement that the average individual below 18 years does not have the necessary first-hand life experience to consider most, if not all, of the pledges of a party-political manifesto. Furthermore, voting for a candidate because he appeared with Stormzy is not a substitute for this. Indeed, the high youth turnout in the snap election is promising, and clearly indicative of an engaged group of people. But let us not pick the fruit before they are ripe.  

Photograph: Stuart Boreham via Flickr 

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