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Teenagers – the new threat to democracy?

By Rebecca Vassarotti - 10 August 2017 13

The current inquiry into the 2016 Territory Election and Electoral Act is exploring a range of issues including the proposal to reduce the voting age to 16. Public submissions have now been made and a variety of groups have shared their perspective, with a variety of views about this proposal.

Many supporters of the idea note that young people aged 16 and 17 already exercise a range of rights and obligations at this age – including working or studying, paying tax, applying to live independently and learning to drive (as a learner or provisional driver). Given this, they question the fairness of excluding young people from voting. The Youth Coalition of the ACT who has long supported the idea of optional enrolment and voting for young people aged 16 and 17 in Territory elections, say that voting is a fundamental right that should be afforded to young people as active and contributing members of society.

There are some however who argue that giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote is a bad idea.

The ACT Electoral Commission argues that there is a problem if we have different rules between federal and Territory elections – it creates confusion for everyone. However, when we look at a number of countries where young people aged 16 and 17 are able to vote, they appear to have successfully negotiated this issue. For example, Scotland enfranchises 16 and 17-year-olds for elections in the Scottish Parliament only.

Some argue that the current proposal of voluntary voting for people of this age (the model supported by young people themselves according to the ACT Youth Coalition surveying in 2012 and 2016) creates real problems in relation to how we manage our democratic right to vote. While supporting the proposal to lower the voting age, ACT Labor argues that compulsory voting is one of the foundations of our democracy and doesn’t support any change in legislation that would undermine this important practice. The ACT Electoral Commission’s submission explored the problems of fining minors if they did not exercise this voting right under a compulsory system. However, we have mechanisms for aged based rules in areas such as employment law. Is our democracy so fragile that we are unable to create nuances in our rules?

The biggest argument against lowering the voting age is that many young people who are already able to vote are apathetic, uninformed and uninterested in politics. It is true that we see a situation where large number of young people eligible to vote are choosing not to enrol to vote because of their disenchantment with politics but I see this proposal as a way to reverse this trend. I have sympathy for young people who perceive that their views don’t make a difference but I don’t agree with them. I am lucky enough to spend time with many young people – of voting age and younger and continue to be inspired and challenged by their thoughts and ideas, and draw energy and enthusiasm from their participation and action. Surely a process where we say to young people we value your input, we respect your involvement and we encourage your involvement, will lead to an improvement in the engagement of young people in the democratic process.

The political decisions made at a local level on education, health, the economy and the form of the city will shape our lives and our city for decades to come. Our younger citizens will be the ones living with these decisions much longer than the rest of us, and as such, I think they should have a chance to have a say. What do you think about lowing the voting age?

Rebecca is a member of the ACT Greens and ran as a candidate in the 2016 Territory Election. The ACT Greens support a lowing of the voting age to 16 and support voluntary voting for this age group.

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13 Responses to
Teenagers – the new threat to democracy?
bikhet 6:58 am 13 Aug 17

HiddenDragon said :

“The biggest argument against lowering the voting age is that many young people who are already able to vote are apathetic, uninformed and uninterested in politics”

If the ACT is to depart from practice in other Australian jurisdictions, what about a touch of JFK’s “ask not what your country (city) can do for you…” – 16 and 17 year olds who can’t wait until they’re 18 to vote in Territory elections, could be given that right in return for volunteering (say one full day every second month/six days per year) for registered community groups – doing work of real benefit to the community (which would not include thinly disguised partisan campaigning or attendance at information – awareness – indoctrination sessions).

Why limit it to 16/17 year-olds? Perhaps there should be a need for all those who wish to vote to demonstrate their civic commitment.

HiddenDragon 5:42 pm 12 Aug 17

“The biggest argument against lowering the voting age is that many young people who are already able to vote are apathetic, uninformed and uninterested in politics”

If the ACT is to depart from practice in other Australian jurisdictions, what about a touch of JFK’s “ask not what your country (city) can do for you…” – 16 and 17 year olds who can’t wait until they’re 18 to vote in Territory elections, could be given that right in return for volunteering (say one full day every second month/six days per year) for registered community groups – doing work of real benefit to the community (which would not include thinly disguised partisan campaigning or attendance at information – awareness – indoctrination sessions).

CanberraStreets 11:56 am 11 Aug 17

As I understand it, the right/responsibility to vote is part and parcel of being an “adult” citizen in Australia.

While I can be relatively relaxed about giving 16-17-year-olds the capacity to vote (mainly because all our options are bad at the moment they can’t harm much), I would be a lot less sanguine about including them on the rest of the adult citizen things like standing for parliament, sitting on juries, any possible conscription and the adult justice system.

bikhet 11:10 am 11 Aug 17

ChrisinTurner said :

Like the same-sex-marriage census survey, we are seeing another foot-in-the-door towards the American voluntary voting scheme. The neo-right are persistent.

I think you’ll find it’s the other side of politics that is pushing this, for the reasons indicated in my previous post.

ChrisinTurner 10:24 am 11 Aug 17

Like the same-sex-marriage census survey, we are seeing another foot-in-the-door towards the American voluntary voting scheme. The neo-right are persistent.

Garfield 8:59 am 11 Aug 17

When I was 16 I was highly intelligent and knew so much. I may well have said that I was ready to vote then if I had been asked. Now that I’m middle aged, I know so much more than would have thought was possible at 16, and yet am keenly aware that there’s still so much more to learn.

16 & 17 year old teenagers for the most part are still entirely dependent on their parents for food, clothing & shelter. They have never experienced the realities of truly being responsible for themselves and I see the selection of our government as being one of the most important responsibilities placed upon us as citizens.

The article above mentions these teens pay tax, but the reality is they have to earn around $20,000 p.a. before that happens, and most part time after school or weekend jobs won’t come close.

Overall, they’re just not ready. I think there’s probably more justification for increasing the voting age rather than lowering it, but am enough of a realist to know that’s not going to happen.

Maya123 5:32 pm 10 Aug 17

The first time I voted I voted how my parents voted. In effect it was not my vote, but an extra vote for my parents. Older and more aware I now vote differently. Sure there will be a few teenagers mature enough to have a considered vote, but I would speculate most will not be aware enough to have an individual vote. They will, like me, unthinkingly vote how their parents vote.

Yes, it could be argued that some adults are not aware enough to vote, but an age to vote must be chosen. Lowering it, will only increase unaware votes.

Stephen C 4:37 pm 10 Aug 17

Rebecca

I’m not too sure that the ACT Youth Coalition surveys should be taken as a reliable guide to what 16 and 17 year olds actually think. It isn’t a random sample – the 2016 survey was done using survey monkey and it included the offer of two $1000 cash prizes as incentives for schools and community services to promote the survey to young people. This technique could have skewed responses in all kinds of unknown ways.

An older but statistically valid survey conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission in 2004 found that about half of Year 12 students surveyed felt ill-equipped to vote in elections. More recently an Essential Poll in 2015 found that 77 per cent of Australian adults surveyed favoured keeping the voting age at 18.

The argument about fairness is a bit of a red herring – people younger than 16 also pay taxes and we have to draw the line somewhere. 16 and 17 year olds make up just under two and a half per cent of the ACT population but, according to the ATO, the share of income tax paid by all persons under 18 is 0.1 per cent.

In November last year, the fact that you can join the US military at 17 or get a provisional Californian drivers licence at 16 did not stop the majority of San Francisco’s voters voting against allowing 16 year old citizens the right to vote in local elections.

We should leave the voting age at 18 and avoid risking imposing criminal penalties on minors for not voting at compulsory elections.

John Moulis 4:10 pm 10 Aug 17

So voting for people aged 16 and 17 would be voluntary while voting for over 18s will remain compulsory. I thought the Greens were against discrimination.

Matt Donnelly 3:54 pm 10 Aug 17

Voluntary voting, but only for under 18s? Why should the kids have more freedom than the rest of us?

bikhet 3:50 pm 10 Aug 17

I should also point out that surveys show that young people tend to vote for left of centre parties, and so lowering the voting age would tend to entrench those parties in government:

https://decisiondeskhq.com/data-dives/how-the-2016-vote-broke-down-by-race-gender-and-age/
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/behind-trumps-victory-divisions-by-race-gender-education/
https://yougov.co.uk/news/2017/04/25/demographics-dividing-britain/
https://www.economist.com/blogs/speakerscorner/2017/06/youth-booth

Sorry, I can’t easily find a similar breakdown for Australia.

bikhet 11:02 am 10 Aug 17

They are not responsible enough to drink alcohol. They are not responsible enough to drive. Their lack of maturity means they are not treated as adults in the courts. And people think they are responsible enough to vote?

Grail 9:39 am 10 Aug 17

If you want to help people believe that their voice is being heard, ban block voting by parties.

Allowing more people to vote is not going to change the attitude of voters in general, when that attitude is shaped by parties voting one way as a block on issues that voters have clearly stated a preference for the other way.

Change needs to happen in parliament, not the voting booth.

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