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Votes at 16 on the way?

Look at all these young people having a good time! Could they soon be given a say in our country's future? Photo credit: Najuan, Wikimedia Commons.

Look at all these young people having a good time! Could they soon be given a say in our country’s future?
Photo credit: Najuan, Wikimedia Commons.

The House of Lords recently voted to amend a bill to extend the franchise to 16 for the upcoming EU referendum. It still has to pass through the House of Commons, but campaigners are hopeful that it may pass because it is supported both by the main opposition parties (Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats) as well as, crucially, by some anti-EU Conservative MPs. These Eurosceptics have changed their tune, having previously opposed giving 16-year olds the vote, because they believe it will delay the EU referendum for long enough to give the ‘Out’ campaign more time to make their case.

These specifics aren’t important. What’s important is that 16 and 17-year olds could soon be able to vote in all elections, as since they were given this right in last year’s Scottish independence referendum the franchise has subsequently been extended for all Scottish parliamentary and local elections. So, given that this could soon be a reality, let’s ask the all-important question: should 16 and 17-year olds be allowed to vote?

It is argued that lowering the voting age will get young people interested in politics, helping to counter mass disillusionment with the current political system. The Scottish referendum appears to be evidence of this, as seen by the high turnout among teenagers. Moreover, upon turning 16, people have the right to get married and join the army, among other things – why shouldn’t they be allowed to vote as well?

However, it’s often actually 18 when people are really given responsibility. After all, under-18s need parental permission to marry and soldiers have to be over-18 to serve on the front line. As Philip Cowley, an academic at Nottingham University, says, the age at which rights and responsibilities are awarded to people is trending up to 18, rather than down to 16 – take the smoking age, for instance. Moreover, some proponents suggest that 16-year olds should be able to vote in the EU referendum because it affects their future. By this logic, why not extend the franchise to 10-year olds, or five year olds, at that? Some pollsters think it won’t make a difference in terms of enthusing young voters, and it turns out more people oppose lowering the voting age than support it (44-34).

So, are you convinced of the case for lowering the voting age, or do you think it should remain at 18? Take our poll below.

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