MP Sue Bradford is promoting a bill that would lower the voting age from 18 to 16. I’m fairly neutral on the bill but think that many of the objections to lowering the voting don’t stand up in my opinion. Let’s look at some:
- Kids don’t know enough about the electoral process. This is reinforced by media interviewing 16 year olds about what “MMP” stands for. It suits their stories if youth have no idea. However, it should be noted that political ignorance is widespread and teens’ ignorance on such points places them in the mainstream of political knowledge. The Electoral Commission around election time commonly have communications about how to vote – surely a waste of money if all voters already know what to do with their two ticks. Furthermore, youth don’t need to know this stuff until they get the vote, so it is more than a little disingenuous to use their current ignorance to deny them the vote.
- Teens don’t know enough about life. Who does? Knowing the meaning of life is not a prerequisite for citizenship. Everyone’s view of the world is particular, whether based on age, gender, income, ethnicity. People are encouraged to vote for their interests (tax cuts, anyone?) and surely teens understand theirs, don’t they?
- Teens are influenced too much by their parents to cast an independent vote. Has anyone ever found a parent of teens who has complained that their kids did everything they said? Or, are they more likely to find them rebelling? I know of adults who slavishly vote for the same party whatever their politicians do. Or, they may vote for a party because they parents always did. I don’t think teens will be any different.
Ignorance, lack of wisdom and lack of independence can affect anyone and I don’t think they form good reasons to deny teens the vote. But there are some good reasons what Bradford’s bill should be supported:
- No taxation without representation. Teens pay PAYE and GST. Should they not have a say in how that money is spent?
- It is more democratic. Shouldn’t teens have a say in the decisions that affect them? They are users of the health and education system and should have a say on important issues, such as the environment
The arguments against 16 year olds having the vote reveal undemocratic sentiments. Such as “Why have ignorant, uneducated people vote?” or “This is too important to be left to such people.” Such people clearly that people like them are suitable for civil rights and others are not.
My arguments could be used for any age but I would suggest that the age of 16 is signfcant foe several reasons:
- 16 – earliest age to leave school
- 16 – living with a partner
- 16 – age of consent for sex
- 16 – getting a tattoo
- 16 – getting married or having a civil union (with parent’s permission)
- 17 – getting a full driving license
I would link the voting age with the school leaving age or the age at which people can be married.