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Don’t lower the voting age, make kids wait

Ian Bushnell 11 October 2019 68
ACT election

At least 8,500 Canberrans aged 16 and 17 could vote in the upcoming ACT election if the amendment is passed. Photo: File.

There are plenty of 30-year-olds, some still camped on their parents’ couch, who might not be the most switched-on participants in the political process, and quite a few 16-year-olds with an already sharpened focus on the big issues.

So moves to lower the voting age in the ACT are understandable, but I think they’re misguided.

ACT Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur plans to table an 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 argues 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 to vote in the upcoming election.

Putting aside the ACT Greens’ blatant self-interest in moving to lower the voting age to 16, given more of that teenage cohort tend to fly an environmental and progressive flag, the idea needs to be taken seriously.

As Ms Le Couteur says they can work, pay taxes, drive, have sex and even sign a lease but aren’t allowed to have a say in their future.

Many young people are more concerned than ever about their futures, particularly over the impacts of global warming, expressed in the recent Extinction Rebellion protests.

And in mainly middle class, highly educated Canberra, those young people are probably more savvy than their peers elsewhere.

There are 11 countries where 16 and 17-year-olds have the vote, including Scotland, Brazil, Argentina and Scotland, so the precedent is fairly well established.

But like it or not, in general terms, people of that age still have developing brains more prone to impulse than any consideration of the consequences of their behaviour. Many doctors will tell you that the drinking age, for instance, should be restored to 21.

If there has to be an arbitrary line where youth crosses into adulthood and acquires the rights to express that new state, then 18 is as good an age to draw it. Most of us leave school at that age and, if we can afford it, home, and start making our way in the world under more or less our own steam.

The amendment also devalues the vote by making it optional. Anything that erodes the compulsory nature of our voting system that has nurtured a highly developed culture of civic duty and meant voting rates in this country are the highest in the world, conferring legitimacy on the governments we elect, should not be countenanced.

We do not need a democracy that is the preserve of the motivated, the activist or party hack.

It is also good for 16 and 17-year-olds to work towards and understand the value of the vote, not have it handed to them because they are showing interest in some admittedly key issues.

Political participation is not limited to polling day, and there is nothing stopping young people from having a say through protest or the less-exciting avenues available to them.

Casting that first vote at the not very ripe age of 18 is a rite of passage that will come soon enough for those chafing at the bit to have their say at the ballot box. They should have time to realise the burden of responsibility that comes with it.


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68 Responses to Don’t lower the voting age, make kids wait
Stuart Knappstein Stuart Knappstein 10:04 pm 15 Oct 19

Yeah, cos so many so called adults are doing a bang up job of it now...

Trev Astle Trev Astle 3:17 pm 15 Oct 19

LOwer the voting age and reduce the age limit of Aged Voters to 80. Let's keep the Liberals out of office next time.

Mark Chapman Mark Chapman 12:10 pm 15 Oct 19

"16 and 17-year-olds should work to understand the value of voting, and the responsibility that comes with it."

How's that working out now?

Rob Sanders Rob Sanders 11:05 pm 14 Oct 19

So they're old enough to pay taxes and (potentially) hold full time employment, but not to vote? Interesting take.

Monica Tiffen Monica Tiffen 10:54 pm 14 Oct 19

What did I know when I was 16 or so? Nothing!!!!!!

petunia petal petunia petal 10:00 pm 14 Oct 19

I don’t know if this is expert trolling or genuine boomer entitlement on steroids

1. Calls for alcohol age to be 21 is due to its toxic effects on the developing brain. Please explain how this is relevant to a young person formulating a political view. Impulse control and understanding consequences? again please explain how a 16 year old can write a brilliant essay but in your opinion can’t formulate a political opinion.

2. You deem 18 year olds as adults – because its arbitrary and it’s just what’s been traditionally done. Riiiight. Well what caroline is saying is that a society can grow up and change its views. Until 1991 14 year olds could be married in Australia – we changed the laws.

3. compulsory voting – again where does it confer legitimacy. This in itself is a debatable concept, you seem to think that if a proportion of switched on kids (who aren’t all greenies like you think) have an opportunity to be included in the count – it somehow delegitimises the outcome of the election. What? The last federal election is a classic example of people who are apathetic and not passionate about politics deciding the government. Thats why our PM is all beer drinking, cap wearing, footy cheering etc – people in this country vote for politicians based on this instead of policy.

Kids need to understand the value of their vote? pfffft yeah ok. People not appreciating the power of their vote spans the entire age range. What nonsense.

Karna O'Dea Karna O'Dea 9:28 pm 14 Oct 19

Same can apply to a lot of adults who dont take their civic duty seriously

Travissi Gilbert Travissi Gilbert 8:57 pm 14 Oct 19

When people turn 18 they magically acquire a deep and profound understanding of both the history of suffrage and the preference distribution formula for the Hare Clark system. It's true. I read it on RiotACT

    Jeremy Durward Jeremy Durward 9:07 pm 14 Oct 19

    Travissi and pretty sure the research says that when given time like when voting 16 year olds are capable of adult like thought. It’s snap judgments they struggle with.

    Ryan Daniel Ryan Daniel 10:14 pm 14 Oct 19

    Travissi Gilbert same with drinking and smoking. Suddenly 18 year olds make the right choices on their birthday

    Martin Leonard Martin Leonard 7:25 am 15 Oct 19

    Straw man.

    Jasmine Tanner Jasmine Tanner 9:29 am 15 Oct 19

    I had no idea about politics at 18. 🤣

Ann Chaplin Ann Chaplin 6:36 pm 14 Oct 19

Of course the Greens want to lower the voting age, that demographic would tend to overwhelmingly support the Greens. They wouldn’t be supporting lowering the voting age if the young voters supported the LNP and their Ilk.

Neenie Baines Neenie Baines 6:36 pm 14 Oct 19

Really? Because when I was volunteering on a polling booth there seemed to be quite a lot of ambivalence from older adults.... at least teenagers may be more passionate about issues that the jaded adults...

Timothy O'Halloran Timothy O'Halloran 6:17 pm 14 Oct 19

Why not let them vote 10 minutes after they are born.

Kevin Archbold Kevin Archbold 4:54 pm 14 Oct 19

Most of them can't even pull their pants up far enough

Martin Leonard Martin Leonard 2:12 pm 14 Oct 19

Greens opportunism.

Peter Campbell Peter Campbell 2:09 pm 14 Oct 19

Where does it say "vote Liberal" in Chinese?

Lee Sheather Lee Sheather 2:05 pm 14 Oct 19

Both my sons voted this year 18 and 19 they had really no idea.

Lowering the age doesn’t benefit anybody.

    Neenie Baines Neenie Baines 6:37 pm 14 Oct 19

    Lee Sheather if it’s voluntary for 16/17 it would be good. Only those engaged in the political process would vote.

Shane Westmore Shane Westmore 1:38 pm 14 Oct 19

Right, so they should ignore all news & current events until they’ve learnt all they can in high school? Many 16 & 17 year olds are better informed than voters with decades of experience!

Liam O'Toole Liam O'Toole 1:37 pm 14 Oct 19

It's about the Greens getting more voters before they understand to much about the system. Easier to manipulate the youth than disgruntled adults.

David Brown David Brown 11:55 am 14 Oct 19

If I had my way, there would be a test in civics before anyone was allowed to vote.

Ruth Foley Ruth Foley 11:13 am 14 Oct 19

Yeah right! I've seen how mature 16 & 17 year old are when you drive into McDonalds......They screw up your order. Or when you expect "Customer Service" and they're moody (break up with boy/girlfriends) or give you the wrong change.....cause they can't work it out in their head.....God forbid if I handed $45 over for an item that costs $34.95!! Or when you want Customer Service.....but it's more important they finish sending their text off first!!! Yeahhhh......Really mature enough to vote ey! Just a ploy to get Labor in! Seeing as Greens can't stand on their own feet, and have to shadow under Labor!! Are the young people AWARE that IF they vote for Greens.....they're voting for Labor?! Why not tell them the WHOLE truth.....not just some of it!! People are only as good as the information they're given.....but if they're constantly lied to......??? Or Mislead? I won't be surprised if we have MORE protests & MORE kids taking days of school to speak their minds. Our Government is teaching children that its ok to lie without consequence....is that good role modelling? The rest of the World looks at us now, cause we've shown we CAN'T keep a GOOD PM!...(Is there such a thing?) Australia has lost a lot of credibility on a World scale, from stupid greedy decisions made in the not so distant past......here goes another great idea that's gonna come back & bite everyone in the ass. Governments worldwide are very professional at creating distraction. The question you need to ask yourself is, what am I getting distracted from??!! What else are they doing that's going to slip through, because everyone was too distracted with something like this.! How about teaching kids NOT to take everything on face value! There's ALWAYS a hidden Agenda!

Harley Josh Harley Josh 10:51 am 14 Oct 19

Don't focus on lowering the age, focus on making voting non-compulsory so idiot adults don't go in voting for "just anyone" so they don't cop a fine!

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 1:55 pm 14 Oct 19

    Whenever I read the suggestion of non-compulsory voting I feel a shiver of fear run through me. That's how undemocratic government gets in. Usually though people who suggest it do want undemocratic government; as long as they can motivate their small party of fanatics all to vote and they can sway the elections to suit them. Usually suggested by right wing and extreme religious groups. They might be a minority; they might not be popular or wanted by most people, but with non-compulsory voting they can win. I suspect this is what you want by suggesting this. If this is not you, I wouldn't suggest it.

    Harley Josh Harley Josh 2:09 pm 14 Oct 19

    But if voting is not compulsory then the people who won't vote would surely be those who don't know how to vote or don't care, or worse, accidentally vote for the opposition of what they do care about. Those who do want to vote (such as myself and I assume yourself) will still vote. You can still sway a small party of fanatics to vote this way now, even more so for those who vote so they don't cop a fine. If you look at the list of countries where voting is enforced, there is quite a lot in that list which I do not want Australia to become, most of which I could consider are undemocratic and embezzled in corruption. I am however a little confused that I am being generalised.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 4:59 pm 14 Oct 19

    Harley Josh People can be persuaded to vote, say by their religious leaders. The people might personally not know much about politics, but they listen to their religious or other leaders and they vote on mass as they are told to. They might even be driven to the election booth. They might be a small percentage of people, but if others don't vote because it isn't compulsory, they will give a higher percentage of the vote than they should. Compulsory voting is one of the strengths of the Australian electoral systems. It's no great burden to turn up and vote. Countries which don't have compulsory voting don't do as well as we do with elections. They get Trumps and they get Brexit problems. The voting system is easier to influence in countries such as the USA because voting isn't compulsory. Many things done there would be harder to duplicate here, because we are given some protection by having compulsory voting. It will be a very sad, backward day if ever Australia gets rid of compulsory voting. Historically Australia didn't used to have compulsory voting and it was introduced because not enough people voted to give a better representative democracy and to get more people to the booths.

    Harley Josh Harley Josh 5:07 pm 14 Oct 19

    I understand your points, it is a tricky one to tackle. It is my belief that we have too many people donkey voting and this will occur even more so if we lower the voting age. I don't disagree that there are 16 and 17 year olds who understand what their voting for more than some adults, but there would be a lot more who don't. Donkey voting is my concern and I'm very passionate about Australians not wasting this incredible democratic right we have to vote. I will always turn up on election day, no matter what. Luckily I am very clear and understand completely who I am voting for on the day and the potential impacts that my vote has, on both points I agree and disagree with. Sadly there are far too many who don't.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 7:04 pm 14 Oct 19

    Harley Josh Fortunately in the ACT we have Robson Rotation to help reduce the effect of Donkey votes. This should be the same in all elections.

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