What’s the issue?
The Scottish independence referendum set a precedent that 16 and 17 year olds should have their say on constitutional issues. Their record voting in Scottish Parliamentary and local elections proved they were more than capable. Now Welsh 16 and 17-year-olds can vote for their local AMs in the Welsh assembly.
Yet we denied many 16 and 17 year olds who voted for their local MSP or AM a voice in electing their local MP. They and their peers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were then denied a say in the EU referendum.
Why 16 and 17?
There is no silver bullet for improving participation in politics and no singular cause. But, the way people come into contact with politics in their formative years is crucially important for the future of our democracy.
When they can vote, 16 and 17 year olds have higher rates of turnout than 18 to 24 year-olds – with 75% voting and 97% saying they would vote in future elections. They accessed more information from a wider variety of sources than any other age group.
If you vote, you are more likely to vote in future. So as 18 year olds who don’t vote become 50 year olds who don’t vote, 16 and 17 year olds who do vote will continue to vote as they age.
Extending the right to vote would allow a seamless transition from learning about voting to putting it into practice.
We have already potentially lost one generation. We cannot deny the first generation of voters who have studied our democracy the right to use this knowledge in a General Election. That’s a missed opportunity.
Who supports extending the right to vote 16?
The Electoral Reform Society is a founding member of the Votes at 16 coalition. The SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Greens all support votes at 16. As does the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson who says she is a “fully paid-up member of the ‘votes at 16’ club”.
Where can 16 year olds vote?
The Scottish Parliament extended the right to vote in elections to the Scottish parliament and councils. The National Assembly for Wales has done the same for the Welsh Assembly and legislation is going through for local councils. Lack of movement in England is another wedge driven between the nations of the United Kingdom.
16 and 17 year olds in the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Brazil and Austria already have the vote. They can also vote in some elections in Germany, Malta and Norway.