Reducing the voting age

 

A chara, – It is regrettable that the Government has decided not to proceed with the promised referendum to reduce the voting age to 16. Such a poll would be an ideal way to stimulate real debate about young people’s engagement in politics.

The referendum on Scottish independence and the Brazilian presidential election last year both allowed 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote. The turnout in Scotland was 85 per cent, while almost 81 per cent voted in Brazil, much higher than most votes in the rest of the democratic world.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is urging a reduction in the voting age for Westminster elections in the UK. Brazil has permitted those aged 16 and over to vote since 1989.

Granting the right to vote to those aged 16 and 17 will encourage greater civic participation by teenagers and ensure that young people’s concerns are more seriously addressed by more chronologically challenged decision makers.

Over a decade ago, Austria’s regions began moving to permit 16 year olds to vote in local elections and since 2007, all those aged 16 and over can vote in national elections. The Austrian National Election Study, which examines turnout and participation, has found early indications that those who vote at a younger age tend to continue to vote as they get older.

Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua and a number of German regions have also granted 16 year olds the right to vote and the Isle of Man made the change in 2006 (the first territory in the world to give women the right to vote, in 1881).

There have been a variety of reasons put forward for the lack of involvement of young people in political life. The opportunities for success and to influence Irish life are perceived to be in areas other than public office; the perceived irrelevancy of the Irish political system to real life; the failure of the political parties to realistically involve young people. The language of our political leadership is often not encouraging.

But contrary to popular belief, young people are interested in politics. Issues ranging from globalisation to the cost of college to the environment to car insurance will feature in teenage discussions. But consumer power is often seen as more effective than going out to vote and traditional political organisations such as party or trade union branches are seen as toothless in comparison to, say, raising an issue through social media.

For our political system to survive and for it maintain credibility, we need to involve people of all backgrounds and all ages.

At 16, a young person is very much part of their community and it is an easier time in which to start voting than at 18 when young people start to move out of home, to college or to work – setting out on their own journey in life. The earlier in life a habit is formed, the more likely that it will continue through later life.

By lowering the voting age, it will also force the political establishment to pay more attention to the views and concerns of young people. Nothing makes a candidate pay attention more than someone with a vote. Lowering the voting age would be a most powerful signal to young people that they are not just “our nation’s future” but also very much part of its present. – Is mise,

Cllr MALCOLM BYRNE,

Cathaoirleach,

Wexford County Council.