Eric Joyce MP has written about why he doesn't think the vote should be extended to 16 year olds. While I've admired his stance on digital rights, I disagree with him and his reasoning on this issue.
This isn't about whether young people are able to understand the issues, or whether they are taxed without representation, or even if they are somehow "mature". We vote because the direction of the government affects us. No matter our age.
It is my contention that every citizen of this country should be able to vote. No matter what their age.
Imagine the following system. Every live birth registered up until the day an election is called is worth one vote. Parents would be able to vote on their child's behalf up until the parents thought the child able to vote for themselves.
If you are a single parent with two small children - you get, in effect, three votes.
We can't have a test for the age of maturity - that would be extremely politically loaded and probably disenfranchise the elderly, the disabled, and the illiterate. Every citizen whose life is affected by the Government ought to have a say in how they are governed. If they are unable to comprehend the arguments or physically unable to vote - their parent or guardian should act in their best interests as their proxy.
Mr Joyce puts forward some very disingenuous arguments against lowering the voting age. He seems to confuse the age of maturity with the ability to to be a fully franchised citizen. He says:
Do we want to say that voters are adults (and so treat 16 year olds as adults), or that it's not that important so we let kids do it too. Do we want 14 and 15 year old’s details on the publicly available voters register, with parties ringing their homes to lobby them? Do we want 16 year olds risking death in theatres of war? Do we want 16 year olds treated as adults in the justice system? Do we want them buying their own alcohol in pubs and off-licences (the SNP doesn’t, by the way, it wants to raise that age to 21)? And why draw the line at 16 in any case – 14 year olds can pay tax and are perfectly capable of understanding the arguments put by political parties at election time.
I'd like to take those points in order.
- Voters don't have to be adults. Either mentally or physically. Adults are capable of reckless acts and children capable of maturity.
- The names and addresses of all citizens are already available. I remember my (Conservative) MP sending me a birthday card when I turned 18 - a shameless tactic.
- Regarding lobbying children - I honestly think it would be a good idea for politicians to explain their proposals in simpler language. In 2005, fewer than 20% of people with a learning disability voted. Thanks, in part, to Mencap producing manifestos suitable for people with learning difficulties - that figure rose to 31% for the 2010 election. So, yes, politicians should court the youth - either directly or through their guardians.
- Regarding rights and responsibilities - Joyce has already pointed out the age related discrepancies in our laws. This could be another of them. Or, just as we don't expect (some) people with mental health issues to be tried as adults or conscripted into the armed forces, neither would we expect children to shoulder this responsibility. An 89 year old woman is unlikely to be asked to risk life and limb - yet she is able to vote for a war-hungry government.
- On the subject of age related hazards - again, this is a specious argument. Why shouldn't anyone capable of passing a driving test be allowed to drive? For "sinful" or dangerous substances like alcohol - do we ban drunk drivers or alcoholics from purchasing alcohol? We don't ban children because they don't understand the risks - but because these items have a damaging impact on the developing body.
- Finally a point we agree on! Why draw the line at 16? Children pay tax, and have their rights dictated to by local and national politicians. Why should anyone be disenfranchised?
Children enjoy human rights, and they are protected by the law. We give them a right to education, to life, and to healthcare. We shelter them when homeless, and feed them when hungry. But we don't give them - or their proxies - any say in the provision of these services or how they are governed.
Abolishing the voting age isn't without its problems. We will never arrive at a system which is free from defects and edge cases - but this is an improvement on our current situation. It would engage young people in politics, and invest them with the idea of personal democracy.
Politicians are constantly harping on about "hard working families" and how we must think of the children. This would - I hope - ensure policies which were good for families and good for children.
Votes for all.