Why the Voting Age Should Be Sixteen

Adam Rothman

When the UK voted to leave the European Union, just 21% of people below the age of 26 voted to leave compared to 69% of people over the age of 65. In the U.S. presidential election, 53% of voters over the age of 65 voted for Donald Trump, contrasting only 37% of those aged 18-29. Despite the fact that we are the most informed generation in the history of the world, and the consequences of the policies of current world leaders are going to fall on our shoulders, young people are currently not being heard by democracy. The answer to this problem is lowering the voting age to 16.

First, permit me to address the arguments I expect to hear against it:

Teenagers are not informed on the issues and do not have proper judgment.

The current generation of youth is the most connected to the world, ever. We are constantly swarmed with information that we can access instantly, anywhere. Through social media, teenagers are now unable to avoid being aware of the news and what’s going on in the world. Do we have perfect judgment? Do we know the complexities of all the issues? Of course not! But, do all adults? Democracy relies on the fundamental principle of self-determination; your vote does not rely on how smart and informed you are.

Teenagers’ votes will be influenced by their parents.

Yes, probably. But all voters are influenced by family and friends. I think lots of teenagers happily disagree with their parents on many things, politics certainly can be one. And, once you are in the voting booth, there’s nothing stopping you from voting your true conscious.

Changing the voting age will help certain political parties more than others.

 Again, probably true. But isn’t that a good thing? Shouldn’t the parties that actually appeal to a greater number of people be advantaged? As a whole, I would expect 16 and 17-year-olds to be more left-leaning, but there are still many conservatives. Furthermore, changing the voting age will incentivize politicians to appeal to young people. They will be obliged to reflect the values we have been raised to fight for and address the issues we care about.

Why should the voting age be 16?

To start, for the purpose of fighting Climate Change, we ought to make the voting age 16. Climate Change is the single greatest problem facing the planet. Young people understand this and are ready to fight for solutions. The current power structures and voting populace are simply unwilling to make the necessary tradeoffs and instead are leaving it to the next generation to deal with our dying planet. If 16 and 17-year-olds could vote, we could actually hold democratic power and put pressure on leaders to act. There are countless other issues that are important to young people such as gender inequality, police brutality and indigenous issues that are not being addressed today. Almost every major political issue affects youth, or will in the near future, yet they are given no say.

Almost all western democracies suffer from embarrassingly low voter turnouts (just 58% in the incredibly hyped 2016 US election, up from 38% in 2012). If we begin the process of voting earlier, and are engaged and encouraged through our secondary-schools, the data shows that long term civic engagement will increase. Secondary-schools can educate students on the issues and how to properly weigh the pros and cons of each side. The ability to vote would make civics classes actually applicable to life.

There is lots of precedent for this. In Austria, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Scotland, 16-year-olds can vote. In 2013, Takoma Park, Maryland became the first city in the United States to lower its voting age to 16.

As citizens with a vested interest in the actions of our government, we do have a fundamental right to vote. In 2017, it is time the voting age in Toronto, Canada, and around the world, is lowered to 16.

I invite anyone interested to respond.

*If you would like to respond publicly, send your thoughts by email to hannibal.depencier@ucc.on.ca