Community: Real Life

Votes at 16


Joseph Ammoun is 17, lives in Bexhill-on-Sea, and is studying Modern History, Politics, English Literature and Law. Joseph has been involved in the Youth Parliament (UKYP) for over three years and is its 'Votes at 16' Campaign Organiser.

Joseph argues that the voting age should be lowered to the age of 16 to give young people more of a say in how the country is run.

I recently finished my term as member of Youth Parliament for Hastings and Rother, an area which saw more than 3,000 young people vote in the UKYP January election. The new MYP (Member of Youth Parliament), like those before him, was voted into office with a greater number of votes by young people than most county councillors receive in elections around the country.

There's a great level of inconsistency about the age at which a person gains civil rights and responsibilities. At the age of 16 a young person can choose to finish education, leave home, join the armed forces, have sex, and start a family. In fact, if a young person is earning enough, they can even pay tax - and yet they do not have the right to vote or to have a role in deciding who will make law and govern the country.

Many adults believe that young people do not have a very great interest in voting or elections and that they'll drift into it later in life. However, the decline in turnout in recent years would suggest that this isn't the case; those who choose not to vote when they are young may never vote, even in general elections.

Not letting 16 and 17 year-olds express their political views through the ballot box, gives the impression to young people and to the rest of society, that young people's views are not valid and that they are not equal citizens. Lowering the voting age to 16 will give young people the potential to further influence and be involved in the political process, and help prevent the disillusionment felt by many.

Considering the role young people will play in the future prospects of this country and the number of issues our generation will be expected to deal with, I believe that the current voting age gives out a very negative message.

"If a young person is earning enough, they can even pay tax - and yet they do not have the right to vote or to have a role in deciding who will make law and govern the country."

Many past and current members of the House of Commons benefited directly from the last lowering of the voting age in 1970. These include the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, former Liberal Democrat leadership contender Simon Hughes and former Conservative Trade and Industry Secretary John Redwood. Who's to say that the next crop of leading politicians won't be turned off by the inability to have their say?

Experiments in Germany have seen a greater proportion of 16 and 17 year-olds vote than those aged 18 to 35 in municipal elections in Hanover. This shows that the new voting age could lead to a steady rise in turnout in general, particularly in the long term.

Just because some people have the opinion that the voting age shouldn't be lowered, I don't believe the case for votes at 16 is a lost cause. Although the Suffragettes campaigned for the right to vote to be extended to women, some women - and many men - stood against them, yet I doubt it would be possible to argue that women should not have the vote now. The same principle holds true for votes at 16.

The youngest voting age around the world is 15, which is used in Iran (for both men and women). A number of countries use the age of 16, including Brazil, Nicaragua, Cuba and Bosnia Herzegovina. Indonesia has a voting age of 17. Closer to home, the Isle of Man has recently passed a law bringing the Voting age to 16 in all elections - the first place to do so in the British Isles.

The UK should now take the opportunity to lead the move towards an extension of the franchise to 16 year-olds and towards a society better adjusted to hearing the voice of its diverse population, just as we have done in the past.

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Updated: 14/11/2008

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