Don’t lower the voting age, make kids wait

Ian Bushnell 11 October 2019 50
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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50 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

    M.J. Leonard M.J. 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...

Kevin Archbold Kevin Archbold 4:54 pm 14 Oct 19

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

M.J. Leonard M.J. 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!

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.

Leo Menssen Leo Menssen 9:52 am 14 Oct 19

LNP would get smashed by the 16 year olds. Bring it on please.

Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 9:52 am 14 Oct 19

Most adults don't even know

April Littrell April Littrell 9:44 am 14 Oct 19

they do work to understand the value of voting. activism isn't a piece of cake!

Rachel Ray Rachel Ray 9:39 am 14 Oct 19

Howard only lasted as long as he did because the generation he screwed had to wait until they were 18 to boot his foul ass out of the top job, since none of the older generations tried hard enough. No one should under estimate 16yr and 17yr olds. If the global movements for change haven't shown you that young people know what they're talking about, then you're too privileged to be a part of the discussion.

    M.J. Leonard M.J. Leonard 11:49 am 14 Oct 19

    Howard only lasted as long as he did because he won five successive elections.

    Neenie Baines Neenie Baines 6:52 pm 14 Oct 19

    Martin Leonard is that a little bit like saying ‘it’s always in the last place you look’?

    That is irrelevant to the point.

    M.J. Leonard M.J. Leonard 9:14 pm 14 Oct 19

    Neenie Baines Not really, well, not at all actually. But this "Howard only lasted as long as he did because (insert excuse)" reminds me of the saying "If my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle."

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