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Debate: Lowering the voting age to 16

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Should the voting age be lowered to 16?

Background and context

The right to vote is one of the most important human rights. It gives men and women the chance to have a say in the way they are governed. It allows them to get rid of bad governments and makes sure that any government listens to its people, for fear of being thrown out at the next election. It is one of the most important ways in which other rights (e.g. free speech, the right to a fair trial) are protected. Not every country in the world is a democracy, with free elections giving citizens a fair political choice. But the right to vote is spreading and outright dictatorships are increasingly few on every continent. Yet what should that right to vote mean? A century or so ago almost no countries allowed women to vote, and it took decades of struggle for them to win political rights. Fifty years ago countries such as South Africa and many states in the USA limited the rights of black people to vote, but that too has changed for the better. Now every democracy accepts that all adult citizens should have the right to vote. But what does adult mean? In almost every country adult is taken for voting purposes to mean 18. 142 countries have 18 as their voting age. Some others (such as Taiwan and Japan) do not give their young people the right to vote until they are 21. But in several countries the voting age is younger - in Korea, Sudan and Indonesia it is 17, in Brazil, Cuba and Nicaragua it is 16, and in Iran it is as low as 15. And in a number of well-known democracies such as the UK, USA and Australia there are growing movements to lower the voting age to 16. This topic looks at the case for lowering the voting age to 16, but the arguments below could be used for a debate about a different voting age (perhaps 14?). Another issue to consider is whether the same age should be used for all kinds of voting (e.g. local elections, state elections, national elections, referenda). And should young people gain the right to stand for election at the same age they get the right to vote? In many countries, such as the UK and United States, you can vote at 18 but can’t stand for elected office until you are 21.

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Argument #1

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Yes

16 year olds are mature enough to make important decisions such as voting. Their bodies are fully adult, they have been educated for at least 10 years, and most of them have some experience of work as well as school. All this allows them to form political views and they should be allowed to put these across at election time. There is no magic difference between 16 and 18 - indeed, many 16 year old are more sensible than some 20 year olds.

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No

16 year olds are not mature enough. The large majority still live at home and go to school. They may have adult bodies, but their minds are still those of children who have to be protected. By 18 they have become much more independent and are able to make their own way in the world. Their political views are likely to be more thoughtful compared to 16 year olds, who may just copy their parents’ opinions or adopt silly ideas for the sake of rebellion.

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Argument #2

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Yes

16 year olds already have other rights. For example, in many countries they have the right to leave school and leave home, and the rights to have sex, marry and have children. It is not reasonable to have different ages for different rights. If young people are considered old enough to make important choices about their own future, why can’t they have a say in deciding the future of their country?

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No

Just because 16 year olds have the right to do some things, it doesn’t mean that they should use them. If all 16 year olds left home at 16 and started families it would be considered a disaster. And not all rights are given at 16 - most countries have a higher age for important things such as drinking alcohol, serving on a jury, joining the military, etc. It makes sense for different rights to be gained at different times as young people mature and get used to more responsibility. Because voting is so important, it should be one of the last rights to be gained.

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Argument #3

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Yes

If you deny 16 year olds the vote, it equals unequal representation. Democracy means that the government represents EVERYBODY. Are 16 year olds not part of everybody? It also violates the Canadian charter of Rights and Freedoms Equality Rights. Also don’t you know? “No taxation without Representation.” That means you can’t vote, but they still get taxed when they work.

It is unfair to have taxation without representation. Many 16 year olds work and pay tax on their earnings. At present they are not allowed to have a say in how the government spends their money, nor in how much should be collected from them in taxes. Policies such as the minimum wage and working hours and conditions are also set by governments, and if young people are old enough to have jobs they should be able to have their say in these issues.

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No

Governments do things which affect every age group but that does not mean everyone deserves the vote. Should 12 year olds get the vote because school policies affect them? Should toddlers get the vote because health services affect them? No - we trust parents to cast votes after thinking about the interests of their families. And there are other ways for young people to have a say - they can write to elected representatives and newspapers, sign petitions, speak at public meetings, join youth parliaments, etc. Finally, there is no age at which you start to be taxed. Rich children with investment funds and child stars all earn money at a young age and are taxed on it.

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Argument #4

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Yes

It is important in a democracy to include as wide a range of opinion as possible. The idea of representation by elected officials means that as many different views as possible should be heard at election time. Teenagers have their own interests and views which are currently not represented. This leads them to feel unvalued by society and to lose trust in the way the country is governed.

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No

Having a broad range of opinion at elections has to be balanced against having responsible voters. Everyone would agree that there has to be a minimum voting age. Most people believe that the line should be drawn at 18 rather than 16. Although some 16 year olds may be mature enough to vote, most have not yet formed political views of their own yet. On average, young people are much more likely to be ready for the responsibility of voting at 18.

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Argument #5

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Yes

You can't vote wrong.“Noting that youth will most likely vote well we must wonder, is it at all possible for a voter to vote wrong? Did voters choose poorly when the elected Clinton in 1996? Republicans would say so. Did voters choose poorly when they elected Bush in 2004? Democrats would say so. If youth were able to vote for either of them, or against them would they be voting wrong? I don't think so. All voters have their own reasons for voting, we may disagree with their reasons, but we must respect their right to make a decision. This is what we must do with youth.” Just as Richard Farson says,

There is a problem of apathy in many western countries, with low turnouts at elections. Although young people are taught citizenship or civics at school, they don’t get a chance to put this knowledge into practice for several years. Is it surprising that they lose interest in public affairs during this time? Because national elections are usually only held every four years or so, many people have to wait until they are 20 or 21 before their first chance to cast an important vote.

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No

Earlier voting is not a solution to the low turnout problem. At the moment 18-25 year olds are the least likely to cast a vote at election time. Youth membership of political parties is falling. Lowering the voting age still further is therefore likely to reduce turnout even more. Most people don’t vote because they think the election system is unfair, or because they don’t trust any of the political parties on offer - lowering the voting age won’t solve these problems.

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Argument #6

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Yes

Giving the vote to teenagers would force politicians to take them seriously. Policies on education (e.g. student loans) would have to take their views and interests into account for the first time. 16 year olds today are well-educated and media-savvy, so they can express informed opinions. But at the moment young people’s views are easily ignored by those in power.

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No

6. It would be dangerous to give young people the vote. They might use it in foolish ways. For example they might vote for celebrities or make their decision on which party had the best image. They might put extremists into power or vote without thinking on single issues (e.g. making drugs legal, free university places, cheap beer!).

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