Votes at 16 in the UK

One of the new authors at The Vibe just wrote this article, stating her support for the Votes at 16 campaign and why she believed it was right. I found myself disagreeing with it so much, that it deserves a full blogpost, rather than a very lengthy comment to her article. I’m not sure yet whether I disagree with the campaign, her arguments, or both. Actually it’s both, and here’s why.

For a start, I don’t believe 16 year olds are mature enough to vote, nor interested enough in politics to do so. Of course, this is a very broad generalisation that people will be quick to knock down. I daresay that some 16 year olds are quite mature and interested in politics, and would like to be able to vote, but they are a minority. It is unfortunate that the people who want to be heard can’t be, but we also have to draw the limit somewhere don’t we?

Arguments put forward by Elisha range from: young people are allowed to talk on school boards, they are affected by issues such as unemployment and tuition fees, transport, crime and the EU that they should be able to have a say about. Furthermore, 16 year olds could be, (and let’s emphasise the could) living lives exactly identical to those of people of say… 30: full time job, parenting, married and paying tax.

Where to start with my disagreement with these arguments? First of all, young people may be allowed a voice on their school boards and that seems only fair, but is it really possible to compare the size and scale of school politics, to national and/or international politics? I think not. Being able to vote on school lunches, electing a school representative or agreeing on whether or not to refurbish is certainly not the same as deciding what party or person should lead the government of a country, population 62 000 000 (approximately).

Next: tuition fees and high unemployment. Surely tuition fees is something that concerns people of 18 and above by majority? I am assuming that there is a very low percentage of 16 year olds attending university. Therefore, it would be safe to say that the majority of people concerned by tuition fees already have a say on this and the right to vote. As for high unemployment, it’s true that the younger generations are particularly badly hit, and this can trickle as far down as those who start work as soon as it is legally allowed. However, I don’t believe that this alone can count as an argument for granting the right to vote.

All other issues that usually come up in politics and elections can indeed affect 16 year olds, it would be wrong to deny it. However, do they really have the necessary experience, knowledge and understanding to make an informed decision on the matter? How much do they know, and how much do they care? Elisha argues that some people of 50 or more don’t even know the answers to these questions, or fully understand the topics, and that this is why 16 year olds should be allowed to vote. But I would be inclined to say that this is precisely why they should NOT be allowed to vote.

If after 30 or more years people are still no better educated about politics, surely this is a sign that we should spend more of our efforts on educating those that already have the right to vote, rather than adding a whole new batch of people who would be likely to add to the misinformed, and uninterested people.

Next, I don’t believe it is possible to make the assumption that 16 year olds live similar lives to adults who are twice their age or more. They may hold down a full time job, but having a job is not the only thing that makes you an adult or gives you life experience. If they are already parents, surely this isn’t a positive point, but on the contrary illustrates their lack of foresight. And if they are married once again, being married doesn’t make you a responsible person nor is it necessarily a sign of being a grown-up.

Unfortunately, there are many reasons why I believe 16 year olds are simply not ready to be given the vote, and those stated above are just a few. People may find reason to disagree with me just as strongly as I disagree with Elisha, but I think 16 is too young.

There is not only there the age reason, but if you start to think about all the voting demographics involved, and the difficulties already experienced with voter turnout, then we have a whole new problem on our hands. Let’s leave things as they are for now, and try and work with what we have, rather than complicating them more.

2 thoughts on “Votes at 16 in the UK

  1. Martin says:

    Why is maturity even a factor? That someone isn’t ‘ready’ is a valid argument to delay sending someone off to a battlefield, or jump off a bungee platform, it is not a valid argument to prevent a citizen of a country from exercising a fundamental right.

    Does there have to be a limit at all? Government policies affect all individuals. At the point a person is dependent upon a proxy vote by a parent (say 0-7) or during the period where one can objectively say that they don’t understand a range of policies (7-11) there are valid justification for limiting the voting right but not beyond that age.

    The right to vote should not be restricted to adults, moving to 16 as the minimum age is a step in the right direction, it shows that they matter in our society, and that we trust them to undertake a basic civic responsibility.

    Issues regarding turnout and complications are null, in the age of digitisation re-calculations and realignment of logistics is simple fix. If even 1% of the 16-18 age group vote, then that will be a success.

  2. emmacdo says:

    Hi Martin thanks for your comment.

    I think that to some extent maturity allows people to form a political opinion, and so will enable them to make a choice in terms of vote/party. Without a certain amount of life experience, how are you going to know what you want for your country, or even make an informed decision on certain policies? It will be much harder because you won’t understand precisely what it is about and how it can affect your life. Many people do things they aren’t ready for, including going to war, but that doesn’t make it right at all.

    As for the logistics, if only 1% of the 16-18 year olds turned out, then it would be a huge loss. Think about the increase of the voting age group in numbers, and then the proportionate increase of voter abstention. It would not look good at all and would be completely counterproductive. If only 1% were to turn out, then why bother in the first place?

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