8 February 2022

Electoral Commission firmly opposed to giving 16, 17-year-olds voting rights

| Lottie Twyford
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Whether or not young people want to vote, the ACT Electoral Commission is firmly opposed to lowering the ACT’s voting age to 16. Photo: File.

A proposal to open voting in ACT elections to 16 and 17-year-olds is currently being examined by the ACT Government, but it’s found a staunch opponent in the ACT Electoral Commission.

Electoral Commissioner Damian Cantwell told the first public inquiry into the bill last week that the Commission has a “number of reasons” for its opposition to the proposal, which was put forward by ACT Greens MLAs Andrew Braddock and Johnathan Davis.

“Whilst recognising the intent behind the bill and the benefit it would offer to some in this age group, that needs to be balanced against the significant negative issues that compulsory enrolment in voting would bring,” Mr Cantwell said.

The Commission is particularly concerned about the administrative burden of managing a situation if the ACT was to become non-aligned with the Commonwealth and other state and territories.

“To establish a separate electoral roll for 16 and 17-year-olds would require some additional costs and administration effort,” Mr Cantwell explained.

Damian Cantwell

ACT Electoral Commissioner Damian Cantwell said neither he nor the Commission can support lowering the voting age to 16. Photo: Region Media.

Of significant concern is the issue of mandatory voting.

Last year, an ACT Greens proposal to lower the voting age failed to garner support from Labor as it had proposed making voting voluntary for under-18s.

The Greens have now revised that position and suggested the fine for failing to vote should be only $10.

But Mr Cantwell said the Commission is concerned about creating a situation in which minors who fail to vote have to become engaged with the judicial system.

“I want to make it clear, a failure to enrol and vote by a 16 or 17-year-old will be a criminal offence which may result in criminal court proceedings heard in the ACT Children’s Court and the imposition of a fine, conviction or other sentence if found guilty,” he told the inquiry.

Mr Cantwell was questioned by committee chair Jeremy Hanson, who asked if it was the Electoral Commission’s position that a “whole bunch of kids fronting court, being fined and getting convicted isn’t a great advert for democracy and voting in the ACT?”

“Essentially, yes,” Mr Cantwell responded.

“We need to consider how that would be viewed by individuals, their parents or guardians and how we would wish to consider that more broadly as a society.”

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In the last ACT election in 2020, there were initially around 24,000 non-voters.

“Right now, there’s around 1400 who are now still subject to the processes arising for non-voting in the ACT election … [which will go through] the ACT Magistrates Court,” Mr Cantwell told the committee.

The ACT Electoral Commission also does not believe it is adequately funded with either staff and resources to run education campaigns in schools, as well as the additional enrolment drives necessary.

“The school curriculum would be subject to control and resourcing of the Education Directorate,” Mr Cantwell said.

The Commission is also worried about the possibility of a 16-year-old standing for election in the Legislative Assembly, although Mr Davis has previously said he didn’t think this was likely.

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Mr Braddock and Mr Davis’ bill has still got some way to go before it is debated in the Legislative Assembly later this year, but it’s already received more support than a similar proposition last year as it will now make voting compulsory for all electors.

Last year the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety recommended the voting age should remain 18, although the ACT Government didn’t accept that response, saying it was committed to examining extending the franchise to younger voters.

This time, ACT Labor supports compulsory voting, although it does not yet have a definitive position on extending voting rights to younger teenagers.

The Canberra Liberals’ submission scorned the proposition, saying it was simply an attempt by the Greens to increase their vote.

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While I am sure there are some 16 year olds who are mature enough to consider their candidates, of those aged even in their early 20s that I know the majority are not even close to mature enough to make any sort of decision that affects the city as a whole. This isn’t to say that adults are capable of this maturity either, but at the very least they have some life experience rather than just voting for whoever they think is “coolest” or their parents tell them to vote for.

While I disagree with the AEC making such a statement, I do agree with their opposition to such a proposal. Development of the prefrontal cortex is complete at around 25, and the prefrontal cortex is pivotal in risk-taking and decision making. This gels with my own experience. For more detail:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621648/

I guess if 16 year olds are to be given voting rights, would the age of a person wishing to win a seat in the assembly need to be lowered to 16 as well ?
I’m thinkin that at the moment you need to be 18,
but could be mistaken.

Allowing minors to vote; who had that ridiculous idea?

The majority of Australians. See history, specifically 1971 and 1974.

Phydeaux,
Are you referring to changes in the age of majority in different jurisdictions?

If so, In my opinion those were wider changes than just the right to vote for which recent surveys and investigations have shown strong opposition to lowering the voting age amongst Australians.

To me it seems lowering the voting age comes with more problems than it solves on balance.

Although it’s hardly surprising to see the naked political self interest of the Greens in promoting it.

chewy, you are correct that my “1971” is a a mistake meant to be 1973, while 1974 was my reference to age of majority Acts as you say. The principal point is that those once considered not mature adults became considered to be adults, for both voting and other purposes, and the world moved on.
You might also note in my response below to Tom Worthington’s daft idea that I do not currently favour lowering the age below 18. Note that I alluded to women in that, half the adult population, as well as men formerly not “of age”. It may eventually happen though.

Phydeaux,
Hadn’t seen that other point and I agree with you on it. The current age is an arbitrary setting and could change over time as it has before.

I could possibly be attracted to more differentiation than a single age for voting, driving a car, etc, based on time to educate in each field, which might imply raising the age for both! Then we have questions around drugs including alcohol, financial matters, contracts and other legal responsibilities where it might take more time than is currently available in ordinary education. Think I’ll avoid venturing any further there.

Tom Worthington3:48 pm 08 Feb 22

A way to avoid having to prosecute minor for failing to vote would be to make it non-compulsory for everyone. To encourage people to vote pre-poling could be encouraged, with no reason required, plus postal and online. As an incentive citizens could receive a small reward, such as a $20 credit on their MyWay card.

Let us run with that idea.….
Government offers $20 on MyWay for each person voting. Opposition offers $30 off rates for same. Greens offer free bus trips to polling places with $100 per passenger.
What could be wrong?
I’ll stick with compulsory voting for 18+ for now thanks, allowing that formerly it was 21+ and before that excluded half the people of voting age.

Political parties rarely promote anything for the electorate that does not benefit themselves. The Greens want young voters because they are more likely (if they vote) to reinforce the Greens agenda rather than the staid policies of the other two parties. I am not anti-Green and I have no love of those other two parties but this should be called out for what it is, a grab for potentially sympathetic voters. Placing this responsibility on young people who have a enough to deal with is selfish on the part of the Greens. I acknowledge that many people in this age group are very capable of deciding what they want and some are better informed politically than others, just like everyone else.

Jonathan Davis looks set to become yet another 1 election wonder for Brindabella.

He’s certainly Not doing much for his own Tuggeranong constituents and he’s clearly more focused on other Green issues.

The Greens will hand the seat back to the underperforming Libs by not delivering for his electorate. He needs to take a leaf out of his leaders playbook and deliver stuff for his voters.

I do find it rather amusing that one of the very visible placards in the photo appears be part of a box from a toilet paper manufacturer by the name of “Who Gives A Crap”.

That company manufactures its toilet paper in China, a nation quite well known for its opposition to democracy.

The company does some great work, but support for democratic principles doesn’t appear to be one of them.

“The Commission is also worried about the possibility of a 16-year-old standing for election in the Legislative Assembly, although Mr Davis has previously said he didn’t think this was likely.”
Wrong, it’s highly likely the Greens would select a candidate who is 16 or 17 to run in the ACT elections, then they would claim they are the most progressive, the party that most represents the youth, were first in the country to put forward a youth for election, and people should vote Green for these reasons.
Or, are the Greens going to change their internal constitution to say members must be at least 18 to nominate as a candidate?

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