The ACT Greens are proposing to lower the voting age to 16, arguing that young people are more engaged in the democratic process than ever before.
ACT Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur plans to table the amendment to the Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, which would give 16 and 17-year-olds the option of voting in the 2020 ACT Election if passed.
Under the amendment, 16 and 17-year-olds would be given the opportunity to vote but the compulsory voting age would remain at 18. Ms Le Couteur said the compulsory voting age should remain at 18 because young people should not be punished for not voting.
Based on data from the most recent census, the Greens estimate that this would allow at least 8,500 Canberrans aged 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the upcoming election.
Ms Le Couteur said the recent climate strikes showed that young people are more engaged in politics than ever before, arguing that they can work, pay taxes, drive, have sex and even sign a lease but aren’t allowed to have a say in their future.
“If young people wish to take part in our democracy, they should have that option,” Ms Le Couteur said. “Young people mature at different rates and some 16-year-olds are really interested and some are not.
“We believe we should make it optional for the first couple of years, so some young people can take it up while some won’t.”
West Australian Greens senator Jordon Steele-John introduced a similar bill to federal parliament before the 2019 Federal Election, but a parliamentary committee rejected the proposal, saying voluntary voting was “counter-intuitive”.
Ms Le Couteur disagreed, saying it was counter-intuitive to not allow passionate young people to have a say on their future. She pointed to historical figures like Alexander the Great, who started his political career when he was in his teens, as a reason why Canberra teenagers should have a say.
“I think the situation that we have now is counter-intuitive, where the people who are going to be more affected by decisions have less ability to affect them,” Ms Le Couteur said. “We should give them a chance to have their say where it counts most – at the ballot box.”
ANU Professor Ian MacAllister’s 2016 Australian Election Study found that only 11 per cent of the respondents thought the voting age should be 16. However, Youth Coalition ACT’s 2016 survey of 2,000 Canberrans found that more than 60 per cent supported lowering the voting age.
Currently, only 11 countries have 16 as the legal voting age, including Scotland, Brazil, Argentina and Austria.