Votes at 16: UK government must follow Wales and Scotland in backing ‘fairer franchise’

Posted on the 29th January 2018

  • Darren Hughes is available for interview – contact mediaoffice@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07717211630

The Electoral Reform Society have called on Westminster to back a ‘fair franchise’ and give 16 and 17 year olds the vote for all elections in the UK – ahead of Welsh Government plans to back votes at 16 [1].  

The ERS – who have been instrumental in lobbying for votes at 16 in Wales – are calling on the UK government to back similar proposals.

The Society say there will soon be ‘glaring constitutional injustice’, with 16 and 17 year olds able to vote in local elections in Scotland and Wales while around a million people of the same age in England and Northern Ireland will be denied that right.

Evidence from the Scottish independence referendum, substantiated by research from Austria and Norway, shows that 16- and 17-year-olds have higher rates of turnout than 18-34 year olds [2].

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:  

“The Welsh Government are setting a positive example for Westminster – it’s time the UK government followed suit in backing a franchise fit for the 21st century.

“This generation of school leavers are more clued up on politics than ever. Yet despite being the first to have received citizenship education, they are being denied their full rights as citizens.

“There is a widening gulf between people and politics which we can help reverse. This is about nurturing active and engaged young citizens for the health of our democracy. When young people help build a deep and diverse political debate, we all benefit.

“However, it would be a glaring constitutional injustice if around a million 16 and 17 year olds in England and Northern Ireland continued to be denied a vote in elections. And it remains a political inequality that 16 and 17 year olds in Scotland and Wales will be unable to vote in Westminster elections.

“This is now in Theresa May’s ballpark – and if she wants to show she is committed to a stronger and less divided country she should get behind the movement for a fairer franchise. This is about being on the right side of history and we hope the UK government now come forward with proposals for reform in line with Wales and Scotland.

“We know the positive impact that votes at 16 can have in reviving our democracy. 16 and 17 year olds threw themselves wholeheartedly into the Scottish independence referendum, with 75% voting and 97% saying they would vote in future elections [3].

“Even those opposed to extending the franchise for the referendum at the time – such as Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson [4] – now back it after seeing the inspiring impact it has.”

Jessica Blair, Director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru, said:

“We are delighted to see the Welsh Government bringing forward these innovative ideas to modernise our democracy.

“Wales is leading the way in creating a political system that works for everybody – something that is especially pertinent in the centenary year of the first women getting the vote.

“There is a real need to change how we do politics in Wales and across the UK. These recommendations are the first step in making that happen.”

ENDS

Fact sheet:

  • 16- and 17-year-olds accessed more information from a wider variety of sources than any other age-group during the referendum campaign; discussing political issues in schools greatly increased their confidence in their political understanding
  • Of 10,000 young people who took part in a Welsh Assembly consultation on the issue, 53% backed votes at 16, compared to under 30% who disagreed. 79% think it’s important for young people to learn about politics.
  • The Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement has found young people want to be engaged and involved in politics: “There are no age differences when it comes to perceived empowerment [in politics]. However, the oldest citizens aged 75+ are much less likely than their younger counterparts to want to be involved in decision-making at both the local and national levels. Beyond this, the differences between other age groups are relatively small in terms of their desire for involvement at all levels.”
  • 16 and 17 year olds in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey are already able to vote. They can also vote in some elections in Germany and Norway and in all elections in Brazil and Austria. 
  • Over 40% of 16- and 17-year-olds in Scotland had a different voting intention to their parent(s) in the independence referendum and discussing political issues in schools greatly increased their confidence in their political understanding. 

Notes to Editors

[1] To see the press release from the Welsh Government, email mediaoffice@electoral-reform.org.uk

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4020373/

[3] “109,593 16 and 17 year olds were included on the registers by the registration deadline and 75% of those we spoke to claimed to have voted. Importantly, 97% of those 16-17 year olds who reported having voted said that they would vote again in future elections and referendums.” http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/179812/Scottish-independence-referendum-report.pdf

[4] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/why-ruth-davidson-supports-votes-at-16/

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