Home > UK Politics, Welsh Politics > At What Age Is Old Enough To Vote – How About Sweet 16?

At What Age Is Old Enough To Vote – How About Sweet 16?

The last hundred or so years, has witnessed disfranchised groups in various forms demanding the right to vote, whether it be the common man, Women or the lowering the age of both sexes to 18, but now there is a strong call to lower it again to 16. The pro Votes@16 campaigners seem to have the stronger debate with many facts and figures in comparison with those against who do not have a full argument against which leads to believe they fear a younger age range having the ability to vote.

The fact, that young people can be arrested, and deemed old enough to understand the consequences of their actions at the age of 10. At 16, a young person becomes responsible and to decide over their own health, leave school and decide on the route they take whether it is towards further and higher education, Apprenticeships or full time employment. Other things at 16, include Starting a family, Join and train in the Army and Living estranged from parents. Young people are taxed at the age of 16, thus one of the pro arguments claim “NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION” recalling the old American chant regarding the time they wanted representation due to paying taxes to the crown.

There are over 1.5 million 16 and 17 year olds in the UK. These young people are knowledgeable and passionate about the world in which they live, and are highly capable of engaging in the democratic system as much as any other citizen.  Other areas of the UK have already changed the voting age and lowered it to 16, these areas are Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. It seen in various locations across Europe, Asia and South America, and for various different level of government they can vote for at 16, thus it wouldn’t be a huge difference if the UK were to do the same even if it was just the local and regional elections. In their last study, the Electoral commission found that 72% of young people within that age group were in support of the age being lowered.

Youth Organisations across the UK are in support of Votes@16 and have been for many years, which include BYC, UK Youth Parliament, Funky Dragon, Scottish Youth Parliament and a vast number of youth fora / Councils up and down the land. Political bodies such as the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly , and a vast number of political parties which include Labour, Plaid and the Liberal Democrats to name but a few. Many political parties start their membership from 15 which enables them to vote in internal ballots, so why are they not capable enough of doing the same for their party in elections? Due to the nature of UK politics, the devolved areas are not responsible for lowering the age to vote within their region, that right/power is still reserved to central government.

An EDM (Early Day Motion) has been put forward by Stephen Williams, and will be heard once sufficient time and support has been acquired for it. The fact that there is a fairly new parliament,  and many younger members’ means that there could possibility be more support to change the voting age from 18 to 16. A previous EDM brought forward by Julie Morgan, formerly Cardiff North MP had felt that it was an important motion to bring forward and to rectify the injustice and disenfranchisement of potential younger voters.

Those arguing against lowering the voting age, argue that it will be costly to attempt to raise young people’s interest, and strongly believe that it would be a huge drain and a waste of taxpayers’ money , which could be better used  locally or nationally to provide better services for all .  Another argument concerning votes for 16 year olds is that young people of that age, would only focus around one issue e.g. environmental issues or the ongoing conflict in Iraq. At that age they are deemed to lack maturity and experience, and there are even moves for the vote to be raised to 21 rather than dropped to 16.

In law, a person may be classed as a full adult at 18, the same age supported by the UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989) of when a child stops being a child. At this age they may sign their own parental consent forms so therefore having more of an idea, of making important decisions themselves as they are more mature. However a young person may join the army but not in frontline situations, or get married (with parental consent) at the age of 16. Yet this is contradicted by the fact individuals can have a family of their own if they wish from the age of 16. So the law provides a grey area as, the 16/17 year old does not have full responsibility for themselves, but yet retain full responsibility over their own child. The concept of “children should be seen and not heard” unfortunately remains.

Most Statistics from the various media indicate that a small number of 18-24 olds actually vote at present , so why on earth should the voting age be lowered to 16? However this is rebutted by previous consultations in where clear majorities indicate that they would vote, if the age were lowered. While those against would question the consultations and state there would be a definitive difference to those who say they  will and those who actually do vote. The following quote is used by them to support their argument.“Actions speak louder than words”.

Most believe with any decrease of age to vote must they be a better focus be put onto the awareness and educational aspects behind the vote, than of that present. Education is a key point that must be addressed, as at the current time it is not interesting enough due to the way it is taught. More times than not, citizenship or  PSE lessons are “doss” subjects as teachers are not interested or do not understand the system enough to relay such information to their students or utilise books /small questionnaires, as a way to make it easier for them. Politics as a whole is energetic and provides confidence and ambition; it can provide many interesting and enjoyable debates to be had by students. This in turn could act as a eye opener to the real world. Politics is better taught as a practical subject, it can provide great experience to those that run or support a candidate in a political campaign, whether within their school or local area.

The arguments against do not have a strong enough argument, compared to those in support of lowering the voting age. They are mostly of an older generation, more so those that have not witnessed the many youth elections across the country, with some having a turnout higher than in actual local or national elections. Thus as younger people enter politics, the possibility of better connecting with young people can become a norm, the better a reality it will be to successfully lower the voting age. Education must be improved in how it is taught to engage and better the citizen overall. The law needs to reconsider the age of responsibility should be lowered to 16 when the young people of that age already have responsibility over most of their lives, they should be able to consent to themselves to attend/ participate in whatever they so wish.

If you would like to sign the petition, please click on the following link and follow the instructions.


If you would  also like to publicly state you agree for votes at 16 please do via the votes at 16 coalition website http://www.votesat16.org/our-supporters/

  1. Anonymous
    August 31, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    If, at 16 one is old enough to make the questionable decision to engage in pre-marital sex, at the risk of sporning some sort of illegitimate love child, then one is old enough to exercise some choice in democracy. A healthy interest in politics is far more productive than half a joint and three thrusts on the top of a car bonnet. Just saying.

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