First time votes for 16 and 17 year olds in Wales – what Westminster can learn

Tara Azar, former Student Placement

Posted on the 7th May 2021

This week we saw history happen in Wales.

After years of ERS Cyrmu campaigning for the rights of 16 and 17 year olds to vote in Wales, the first election with an expanded franchise took place this week. For the first time 16 and 17 year olds were able to vote in the Senedd elections.

Now ERS Cyrmu are now taking this policy a step further and are calling for automatic voter registration to make sure everyone can use their right to vote.

Joshua who is 17 said: ‘This election, young people in Wales have been given the chance to finally have an influence on politics, which in one way or another will affect us, whether it be in the next four years or 40 years.’

He also mentioned that ‘young people are usually drastically different than those who are older. We seek social justice, environmental protection and free, quality education’ which shows the importance young people give to politics and policymaking.

Loti who is also 17 said: ‘The youth vote is important because we complain at problems in government, in schools and in society all the time and there’s no point doing complaining if you aren’t going to be proactive about changing it.’

Additionally, Isobel who is 16 said: ‘I think it’s imperative that every young person – or every person, for that matter – registers and votes for the party or person they believe in.’

She then went on to say ‘I’ve always been extremely politically minded and passionate about politics. I was always a strong Labour supporter, but in the past year I’ve strengthened a strong pro-independent Wales mindset. Reading the Plaid manifesto, listening to Adam Price and hearing what Plaid has to say for the future of Wales was incredibly relieving. I feel as though they are a party we really need.’

This shows that contrary to popular opinion in Westminster, young people do take the initiative to research policies made by different parties and read up on manifestos to influence them to make an important decision.

Westminster must follow

It is now England’s turn to follow the direction of other countries in the United Kingdom to extend voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds. Westminster cannot be left behind when creating a fairer franchise and young people in England must not miss out on having their voices heard in the way their peers in Scotland and Wales can.

Westminster claims to be the heart of democracy and the House of Commons the ‘mother of all parliaments’. Yet, if Westminster elections remain the only ones to withhold the vote from 16 and 17 year olds that claim can no longer stand.

Extending the franchise would have great positives for democracy across the UK, increasing electoral turnout and giving winning candidates a greater electoral mandate. It would show young people that they are valued in the world of politics and that their views matter.

Entry to the voting process can be used as an educative tool to help young people to become more aware of society around them and to educate them on party pledges and manifestos.

This week Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood gave his backing to votes at 16 – one of the first Conservative MPs to do so. Appearing on BBC Politics Live he said “I very much support this move… you can get married at 16 but you are not trusted to vote”.

It’s clear that support for votes at 16 is growing, not it is a reality in Wales and Scotland it’s surely time for Westminster and England to follow suit.

Sign our petition to extend the franchise to all 16 and 17 year olds

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