Could this be the last general election that excludes 16 and 17 year olds?

Hannah Camilleri, Communications Officer

Posted on the 29th May 2024

At the Electoral Reform Society, we have long been advocates of extending the right to vote to 16 and 17-year-olds in general elections. So, we were pleased to see that, when asked on the campaign trail if he supports the idea, Kier Starmer said “Yes, I want to see both 16 and 17-year-olds [voting]”. Party insiders later told the Times that they would be surprised if votes at 16 wasn’t in the King’s speech.

16 and 17-year-olds already have the vote in devolved elections in Scotland and Wales

Extending the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds would be a huge step forward for our democracy. It would also right one of the great democratic inequalities in this country which allows Scottish and Welsh teenagers to vote in their devolved elections but not their English counterparts.

In 2015, Scotland introduced votes at 16 for all Scottish elections and Wales joined them in 2019.

How someone first interacts with the polling booth is fundamental to how they continue to do so. The evidence proves that when Scottish 16- and 17-year-olds were given the right to vote before the 2014 independence referendum, they had higher rates of turnout than their counterparts in the 18-24 bracket. 75% of the newly enfranchised turned out to vote and 97% said they would vote in future elections.

16 is simply a better year to start voting

It would not just improve the quality of our democracy by enfranchising more people but doubles as a policy with real, long-term benefits.

Put bluntly, if you get to vote at 16, you’re more likely to vote in the future. Whilst some 18-year-olds will become 50-year-olds who don’t vote, 16-year-olds who do vote are more likely to continue to vote as they age.

Of course, for true success in extending the right to vote to 16- and 17-year-olds, we should also be consolidating that with an up-to-date political education at schools and within communities.

There is widespread support for extending the right to vote

Whilst the Labour party has proposed this policy in their General Election campaign, they are not the only ones to have spoken positively about what this could do for our democracy. Not a single MSP voted against extending the right to vote when it was proposed in Scotland. Ruth Davidson, former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, spoke in favour of the proposal.

In Scotland around a third of adults supported votes at 16 before its introduction, now they have experienced it, 60 per cent back the idea.

In Wales, Labour, Plaid Cymru, and the Liberal Democrats all voted in favour of the policy for the Senedd in 2020. The Green Party has also spoken up on the issue.

Whilst there are many arguments in favour of extending the right to vote to 16- and 17-year-olds, including the fact that they have many legal responsibilities at that age, the most fundamental is that the current position is simply unfair. There is no justification for Scottish and Welsh teenagers to have more democratic rights than their English counterparts.

What end does it serve to allow someone to vote for their MSP or MS, but not MP? Or to trust a Welsh 17 year old to elect their councillors but not an English one? It only serves to highlight the democratic inequality that surrounds us.

Do you think we should extend the franchise?

Add my name: This should be the last election to exclude 16 and 17 year olds

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