The voting age: should it be raised to 50?

Makes about as much sense as lowering it to 16

Does B.C. Liberal leadership candidate Mike de Jong think you should take Drano for heartburn? Does he think the Canucks would win more often if the Sedins were traded for magic beans? Anything’s possible. Literally anything.

B.C. teenagers should be able to vote in provincial elections when they are old enough to drive, Liberal leadership candidate Mike de Jong said Wednesday.

De Jong said if elected premier he would introduce legislation to lower the voting age to 16 from 18 in an attempt to interest teenagers in the democratic process before they graduate high school.

“What happens now is Grade 12 students leave and the vast majority of them never vote, or if they do, they are 40 or 50 by the time they get around to it,” he said.

Lowering the voting age could also help boost low voter turnout, he said. Only 51 per cent of 3.24 million eligible voters cast ballots in the 2009 B.C. election, down from 58 per cent in 2005 and 55 per cent in 2001.

The most natural next sentence, you’d think, would mention that the figure was a miserable 27% with the youngest voters, those aged 18-24. Numbers from the last couple of federal elections suggest that even within that 18-24 cohort, younger voters are less interested in voting; in the ’06 election, eligible voters aged 18-19½ (many still in high school) turned out less than voters aged 19½-21½, and those voters, in turn, were less likely to show up than voters aged 21½-24.

You’ll notice that those figures are irreconcilable with de Jong’s just-so story of eager schoolchildren instantly losing interest in voting when we open the gates and turn them loose for the last time. But who’d buy that anyway? Kids who leave high school either take up post-secondary education, and enter the most politically engaged space they’re likely to occupy in their entire lives, or they start earning paycheques—a moment at which government policy becomes frighteningly real, as if a monster in a children’s book had suddenly leapt off the page and started devouring the furniture.

De Jong is proposing a “solution” that helped cause the problem he is addressing: the Western world already essentially made a collective decision to sacrifice voter turnout on the altar of youth when it lowered voting ages to 18. It’s not clear why higher turnout ought to be considered a virtue in itself, but if it is, then that’s the dumbest move we could possibly have made. As André Blais observed in 2006, it’s hard to pin down the variables that influence turnout, but the effect of adding young voters in the ’60s and ’70s is pretty much the most unambiguous factor of all:

It is a well-established fact that the propensity to vote increases with age (Wolfinger & Rosenstone 1980, Blais 2000), and so we would expect turnout to be lower when the voting age is 18 instead of 21. Research that examines turnout in contemporary advanced democracies does not incorporate that variable for the simple reason that the voting age is now 18 almost everywhere (Massicotte et al. 2004), and there is thus no variation.

Blais & Dobrzynska (1998), whose sample of elections starts in the 1970s, do include a voting age variable and they find a relatively strong effect; their results suggest that lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 reduces turnout by five points. Voting age is also a key factor in Franklin’s (2004) study of turnout dynamics. He estimates that the lowering of the voting age in most democracies has produced a turnout decline of about three percentage points.

Leaving aside the Mike de Jong-bashing for a moment, what hardly anybody ever asks when discussing turnout is whether it might be rational for young people not to vote. An economist, after all, would start with the presumption that since they don’t, it must in some sense be rational for them not to. Political reporters and columnists, unless their names rhyme with Bandrew Boyne, do not tend to take an economist’s attitude toward social questions; but I would argue that these people have the strongest reasons of all to suspect that young people are right to re-enter the voting pool one toe at a time.

I was first put on a political beat at the age of 24 or 25. I had an education and plenty of information, but I was still at sea nine-tenths of the time, simply because I had only followed electoral politics for about seven or eight years (since the federal election of 1988, really). I didn’t know the personalities; I hadn’t amassed a store of anecdotes, tall tales, and gossip; I had no personal memory of what had been tried and untried, what policies and political strategies had a tendency to work or not to work, what promises are almost certain to be broken. I hadn’t been surprised a hundred times and just plain gotten things wrong another hundred.

There is no substitute for living through history. The older I get, the more I notice how much of my wisdom comes from simply having hung around a while and watching old friends climb the ladders of power and wealth. And the older I get, the less qualified I feel to have secure opinions about horserace politics, even though my profession requires me to feign omniscience. I defy you to find any political journalist who doesn’t feel the same way.

In this case, what’s true of an occasional political feuilletonist must surely be true of the ordinary citizen, who is (presumably) absorbing practical political knowledge even more passively, slowly, and intuitively. And if the vote is important primarily as a sign of humanity, or of being bound by the social contract, then there can be no argument for any voting-age limits; let’s have Fisher-Price design a ballot interface for infants. How could de Jong possibly object? What could he possibly say, even now, to some other thumbsucking pseudo-innovator who made the argument that the limit really ought to be 15?




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The voting age: should it be raised to 50?

  1. Oh I don't know.. maybe that at 15 you're still under legal guardianship, so the danger that you might be used as a proxy by your guardians for extra votes is too high?

    Stupid question, simple answer.

    • Because no 16-year-old would ever be used that way?

      • Don't believe it. The only kids that would vote are the ones with highly motivated parents, who are the ones causing all the trouble. I got interested in politics as a teenager and my parents wanted nothing to do with it, so I actually had the opportunity to develop my own opinions. I also went to high school and aside from the geek quotient (you know, the ones manipulated by their parents – they'll buy you a car if you get straight As), kids know nothing about politics.

        Every time someone tries to get kids to take an interest in anything they don't naturally ends up becoming the leader of an indoctrination centre. There's no benevolence in collective anything, whether it's study or salvation. The temptation is always to push a political agenda rather than teaching kids to think and question.

        • The fact that you suggest that highly motivated parents are "causing all the trouble" is, in itself, highly troubling. What's wrong…. did Mommy not care?

    • Leave Joe Volpe out of this.

      • heh

  2. Same arguments made for lowering it from 21 in the first place, and utterly useless if voter turnout is the wanted result.

    50 is of course, too high, but I'd gladly raise it back to 21.

    The right to vote should be something people want, and actively look forward to….not something that comes with your driver's license.

    Mind you, I think we allow people to do everything too young…marriage, driving, leaving school, joining the military…..

    Meanwhile young people themselves are raising the age to leave home, to marry, to have kids….

    • Actually, if you were involved with youth you'd know your last sentence is false. More youth between the ages of 14 and 18 leave home (or are kicked out) and start earning a paycheque and paying for rent and bills by themselves and still going to school. Some find they can't go to school and work many hours, so they end up dropping out, but the number of youth living longer with their family has decreased.

      And then, of course, if you look at university-aged youth the majority of them are still leaving home because no one wants to continue living with the parents, unless it's to work and save up money to leave.

      Marrying and having kids, you again overgeneralized. People in general (including people older than 30) are choosing to work more and put off marriage and having kids only because the idea of marriage has changed (you'll notice that not everyone expects to get married anymore), or because it costs too much and people have to put it off because they have other bills to pay.

      But there are still people in their 20s getting married and having children.

    • Personally, the right to vote should only be given after time spent in the military.

      Service guarantees citizenship!

      Would you like to know more?

      • Explain, because I disagree wholeheartedly.

  3. It's not clear why higher turnout ought to be considered a virtue in itself

    This is so true. Many people extol the fact that higher turnout is a virtue without ever giving a reason. It's painfully obvious that the important thing in a democracy is not the act of voting but the right to vote, so that at any moment in time you could choose an alternative to the people in power. But if you have no interest in doing so, then why vote? And if you have no interest, no amount of prodding by enlightened individuals will cause that to change, short of re-education camps.

    Voting power not exercised remains power.

    I've never seen a coherent argument why tirnout is a good thing. But there are plenty of arguments why turnout for the sake of turnout is bad:
    -it dilutes thoughtful votes by those who care about their vote ( and who have good reasons for the votes they cast) with votes that are guesses by people who don't care
    -it no longer becomes an act of pride, it becomes an obligation when it's not voluntary
    -are the chosen leaders any better when you get 100% instead of 50% turnout? Just how many elections would have been different with higher turnout? 1 in a million? Westerners complain that elections are decided before they even get to vote – higher turnout would amplify this.

    • We're a nation of statistics. Nobody cares about WHY people live in poverty or or don't vote because it might hurt their political agenda. When there's a study on something, it's only to avoid actually doing anything about the problem. The question we should be asking is why people have become so complacent that they don't vote? Do they think their vote doesn't count? If we don't answer those basic questions, there's no telling what sort of uniformed voter we may be getting. Love him or hate him, people in America voted for Barack Obama not really knowing what his policies were. He ran on "hope and change." Sounds great, but what does that mean specifically? Now his poll numbers are down and everyone wants to know why. We're the same in Canada. We vote for people note really knowing who they are and what they stand for. We rely on the media, who have already selected their winners and loser already. Until we force ourselves to think and to teach each other to think, what's the point?

      • We vote for people note really knowing who they are and what they stand for.

        That's part of the point. It takes time to figure these things out. It takes time to understand how government affects us all in our adult lives. Young people do vote – when they get older. I don't think this has ever changed much. Young people eventually come to an opinion about what they'd like to see in their government, and when they do, they vote.

        Until you have the information you need, then what's wrong with leaving the decision to your elders? There's only one problem I can see about that – youth issues are then under-represented. But democracy as a whole is not adversely affected.

  4. I find Colby's belief in the rationality of economists, and their belief in rationality, to be irrational. After all, most economists appear not only to believe that people make rational decisions, but also to believe that unending economic and population growth is possible and desireable.

    I would like to see voter turnout dwindle until I'm the only one voting. But then, I maintain an irrational belief in my own rationality.

  5. I bet it's higher than 0%. I have a pretty low opinion of Elections Canada's thoroughness when administering elections.

  6. I firmly believe you should be able to legally have a drink before you can vote. It's usually required medication to be able to understand whatever gobbledygook our "representatives" are squawking about on any given day.

    • The difference is, you can't vote when you're underage, but lots of kids drink underage. And if you can understand what these clowns are saying, maybe you should start worrying. You've already drunk the kool aid and eaten the Turkish Delight. If you can't understand what these people are saying, chances are that's a good thing because you haven't completely lost your soul yet.

  7. People are fickle and easily convinced when they're over 21, let alone a teenager. I guess there's the argument that teenagers can see how badly they're getting ripped off by this system that threw their parents overboard 30 years ago and haven't become complacent yet, but I was in high school not too long ago. It's bad enough having the adults in this country vote in elections without having kids freshly brainwashed, who think the biggest issue facing the nation in an economic crisis is a lack of subsidies to organic farmers, bicycle lanes, and trees being planted. And by the way – Global Warming will kill us all!!!____ Not that I'm completely against tackling such issues, but when a lot of the spending they're calling for will end up COSTING jobs, the last thing you want is a whole legion of new voters who only work at McDonalds so mommy and daddy will let them take the family car out on Friday night and don't appreciate the value of hard work.

    • absolutely. the apolotical teenagers are fine – they are aware of their own ignorance, and that is healthy. but the activist type (about 10-20%) – those that run student unions and who were members of greenpeace at 14 – those are scary – convinced that they have all the worlds problems solved without having held down a job yet.

      • Sounds a lot like the 'peaceful' protesters at the Toronto G-20.

        • precisely

        • Gasp, I didn't think we were allowed to criticize them!

          • Shhhh, the almighty Ombudsman hath spoken, lol!

        • That's pretty gross Leo.

          Note that none of those charged are under 25. Try to stick to the facts and keep your conjecture to yourself.

      • Those ones actually vote as soon as they get the chance.

      • Don't let them vote because you don't like that they'll vote Green or NDP?

        More partisan crap disguised as intellectualism. Just because you don't like someone's political leanings doesn't mean they shouldn't be allowed to vote.

        How about not letting people over 75 vote? They're too old to be senators. I mean, they're religious and hate socialists, so why let them vote at all? They're so disconnected from the realities of today… And vote Conservative. Which I do not like. So, deny them their rights?

        • Not at all. I wouldnt let them (<18) vote because they have yet to be faced with the actual responsibilities of living in our society – the vast majority of them anyways. Once you contribute to society, pay taxes, or at least are faced with the difficulties of making ends meet, you should be allowed to vote. That's why 18 is the appropriate voting age.

          Otherwise, why limit yourself to 14, 10 year olds have opinions too. The difference between 10 and 14 or 16 are only degrees of inexperience and ignorance. But at 18, you become legally responsible for yourself, and that is a difference in kind, not just in degree.

          • Careful there, this is dangerous thinking, I am a vicious right wing bastard, red in tooth and claw, but I agree with sociallib. Using that logic, we could easily disenfranchise the elderly. They can (and frequently do, see CARP) agitate for lollypops for themselves and stick future generations with the bill. I don't think 16&17 year olds should vote because they are not mature enough. That they spend 12 years having their heads filled with soup by bolshy teachers and pop culture know-nothings is a potentially mortal ailment on the body politic, but let's deal with that issue head on .

          • I respectfully disagree. Being a vicious right wing bastard myself, I consider that the elderly, having worked their entire lives and paid taxes and having gained so much experience, should never have their right to vote questioned. The rationale used to exclude kids simply does not apply. If anything, I would actually allow parents to vote for their kids (i.e., two parents have 4 kids, each of their vote counts for 3) – because they represent a larger portion of the population. But unless we want to have a department for Bubble Gum and Video Games, we shouldnt let actual kids vote.

          • Of course, I agree with everything you said, I would never support disenfranchising the elderly, I was pointing out how someone else could use your argument for doing so. Riffing on your idea about parents voting for kids, maybe all these impeccably liberal non breeders could agree to disenfranchise themselves, seeing how they have no skin in the game after they shed their mortal coils:)

        • Technically, not wanting children to vote because they'll vote for the "free chocolate bars for all" party is "partisan crap".

          The point being that voting for the Greens or the NDP, no matter what your age, is a terrible idea and we should be stopping it whenever possible. It's not the be-all and end-all of reasons to not let teenagers vote, but its certainly a strong data point.

  8. Keep the voting age where it is and work on teaching kids to think and question everything. Nobody questions things anymore. If David Suzuki says billions are needed to fight climate change, we don't argue. We're breeding little activists, and while that at face value seems like a good thing, they're not the same activists we had in the 1960s. These new activists are incapable of thinking for themselves and blindly go along with what their school or a celebrity says is important. It doesn't matter who or what you vote for – what's important is how you got there. Two reasonable people can come to different conclusions about things. But these kids are the ones George Carlin warned us about. The planet is fine, the people are…well, you know.

    • There will always be sheep.

    • "If David Suzuki says billions are needed to fight climate change, we don't argue."

      I think you meant to say 'we don't agree', or perhaps 'we don't argue enough'.

    • "These new activists are incapable of thinking for themselves and blindly go along with what their school or a celebrity says is important"
      .
      You took the words right out of my mouth!! When I hear any of the teens & twenty-somethings speaking or wrting about politics or the world in general, they are just parroting some older "activist" bleating from Twitter or Facebook.

  9. DeJong and the rest of those who seek leadership will probably win the spot by having the votes of teenyboppers.the Liberals allow membership at 14 and full voting privileges the NDP allow the same to 12 year old.This to me shows how irresponsible both these parties are to the mature voter.To think that DeJughead would now want 16 the age to vote in Provincial elections has to us who remember ,Mao's great leap forward in China allowing the teens to run the great Cultural Revolution that seen half the countries intellectuals imprisoned.If anything the voting age should go back to 21 except foe those who are prepared to serve their country in the military.Enough of screwballs like this,to think he is the attorney general makes me shudder.I hope the people of B.C will voice their opinions loud and clear especially to those Liberal talk show hosts and other media who is pushing this stupidity

    • It is pretty obvious pandering to the youth voters in the BC Liberal party. All parties allow under-age and non-citizen participation in their selections of leaders, but there is no logical reason for extending that concept to actual elections. Much recent research indicates that the brains of most individuals do not finally mature until around age 21 and the last area to develop is the part of the brain that allows an assessment of cause and effect. It is as silly to extend the vote to 16 year olds as it would be to extend it to ten year olds.

      I had thought better of Mr. DeJong, This type of announcement should be beneath him.

    • I agree about the military vote, if you are good enough to carry a rifle in the name of HM and the country, you are good enough to help decide which set of lying, cheating, stealing, arse-kissing hypocrites we elect to bribe us with our own money (and the as yet unearned wages of our kids and grandkids, born and unborn, too!)

  10. You're also adding newly eligible voters to the denominator of the turnout quotient. So, no, that's not how it works.

    • I think he was merely referring to the 16-18 category. So, you get (to make it simple) 100 new voters, of which only 10 vote. So that 10 percent brings down the overall voter turnout, but the jump from 0 to 10 percent in the 16-18 category is significant.

  11. In the 1980s, LiveAid was launched with all the greatest of intentions, bringing awareness to poverty stricken countries overseas. Now we've all gone back to sleep and we only wake up when some shiny celebrity tells us a certain movement is worth getting involved in. LiveAid, rather than opening people's eyes, created a monster. Now self-important celebs smear themselves all over our televisions, lecturing us on issues they think they're experts in. If they don't, the issues are largely ignored – so instead, they push an agenda onto a zombie electorate. We're all governed by greed and fear. That's all these movements tap into. Kids are the most vulnerable because many of them want so badly to be accepted and admired for something that they'll fall into whatever trap the lies in wait for them.

    We're quickly become a society where it doesn't matter if you vote anymore. We might as well hire a celebrity who will be the spokesperson for every special interest group to take our money and spend it on what they want. I think America already did that in 2008.

    • Great rants!!!

  12. If they really want to improve voter turnout, just add "none of the above" to the ballot.

    In a riding with an incumbent, if the incumbent comes in second to "none of the above", a byelection would then be required and the (now former) incumbent would be ineligible to run.

    The winner of the byelection would be elected even if lower than "none of the above" – but would now BE the incumbent and would have to beat the "none of the above" vote next time around to retain the seat.

    Think of all the fun we'd have! Think of how hard the pols would have to work to stay in our good graces!

    • Good idea. Sadly it depends on politicians censoring themselves and even more so putting their jobs at risk and is as likely to happen as flying pigs making a moon landing. :(

    • I agree about the none-of-the-above, strategic voting is killing the democratic process and ensures that nothing ever changes.

  13. No objections to lowering the voting age to 16. Children at that age have the informational and judgement tools required to cast a vote, even if they use them less well collectively than older generations. The only proviso I have is that we then stop caring about low turnout, and begin appreciating the benefits of a self-selecting voter population.

  14. How about 14 but you have to actively go and sign up for it?

  15. Why do people always focus on voting age when worried about turnout? In Canada at least, we don' talk about making voting mandatory, we only seem to discuss lowering voting age. If people are worried about turnout, make voting mandatory and then we can stop with the pandering to 17 year olds who aren't thinking of anything but getting laid on the weekend.

    How about we abolish age restriction and just write law that says people can start voting once they have paid taxes. Paying taxes makes you a citizen, someone who has a say in how the country is run and non-tax paying people are excluded.

    • Anyone who has ever purchased anything has paid taxes. Hence my 5 yeart old great-niece who spends a dollar on jelly babies is qualified to vote?

    • John. K is right bergkamp.

      If that is the sort of 'economic democracy' you have in mind than why not a property ownership requirement just like the good old days?

      • "why not a property ownership requirement just like the good old days? "

        Here here!

  16. I like the idea but clearly the writer fails to understand the youth voting reality , @16 voters are still at home and easy to register and get to vote,this is good for democracy as it builds a culture of participation very early. From 18-23 many are at university where they have problems getting enumerated and placed on the voters list. Many students were turned away last election because Elections Canada would not take university residency papers as valid proof of residence. Most move back home in the summer so naturally don't change their drivers license information, so at least part of the low turn out in this age category is because they can't vote. This leaves many not voting until they get a job and buy a house which is far too late to build that tradition of participation.

    Having voted at 16 they will know better how to vote, how to register and especially find out if they are registered before election day. Why don't we question the fact that the senility and dementia victims still get to vote, there is a bigger case of voters not being aware.

    We currently infantilizing our youth far too much, we should force responsibility onto them earlier and many will engage, in the past many monarchs and warriors were in their mid teens, stop treating them like kids and they will stop acting like it.

    • What about 16 year olds registering to vote while still at home but actually being able to at 18? That way their name would be linked with the parents address until they have their own. Australia does it at 17 and also addresses the mental health issue.
      http://australianpolitics.com/elections/features/

  17. Cantankerous old pundit says best voters are cantankerous and old. News@11.

  18. I have been voting since I was 18. When they implemented the new curriculum for Ontario secondary schools, a Civics class became mandatory. I know that without this class I would not care about voting or understand what was going and be apathetic to the process. With education comes knowledge, and this knowledge is power.

  19. Voter registration should take place at tax time – if you're a net contributor on your income tax return, you're registered, if not, no vote for you.

    • This is the most amusingly democracy destroying idea in this entire discussion thread. Philanthropist you know you basically just advocated the disenfranchisement of the poorer strata of our society. You can keep your Dickensian voting hell to yourself – I'd prefer to live in a country that recognizes that wealth should have no impact on enfranchisement.

      • WELL SAID.

      • "Philanthropist you know you basically just advocated the disenfranchisement of the poorer strata of our society."

        From a strictly technical point of view, this "poorer strata" isn't actually part of "our society". They are a parallel society being funded entirely by us who pay taxes. You don't think this sort of economic servitude is a feature now do you?

    • Good point. I have for years proposed One Dollar, One Vote. In other words, we should each have as many votes as income tax we have paid in the past three years, with, say, a minimum of 10,000. That way, everybody gets to vote, but those who contribute most to society in the form of higher taxes have the most influence on the outcome. Low income people would have fewer votes. Rich people who use tax havens would have fewer votes. The middle class would rule again. Let him who pays the piper call the tune. This system would be easy to administer in our highly computerized age.

  20. maybe people would vote if they felt there was someone worth voting for, if they could actually believe that they vote makes a difference.

  21. lowering the voter age won't change anything.

    • then it won't hurt to try !

  22. This article is truly stupid.

    It's suggesting that lowering the voting age reduces voter turnout. Sounds like the author of this article didn't pass grade 10 statistics (Probably why he feels 16 y/o's shouldn't be able to vote… they're dumb.)

    Lowering the voting age doesn't "lower voter turnout". It alters the scope of statistic. So if less 16-17 year olds vote than the average, the percentage of voters who came out might go down. The percentage, not the number of voters. By including more people, the number of actual voters would go up.

    This is a good thing. For a number of reasons.

    I think personally that lowering the voting age is a very good idea. We know universities are political hotspots, but high schools could be the same if they could actually vote. I had many friends in highschool and even junior high who were interested in politics, and hey, outside of chess club and drama, we could have had a politics club. If we were allowed to exercise our rights.

    The fine article mentions that experience and exposure to politics helped the author render his political acumen, so why not expose young people who are capable of processing complex information (we do teach them statistics!) so they can get a head start, regardless if they go out and vote or not.

    During the mid 1990's when the Liberals were cutting funding for *everything* there was a walkout at my junior high school. All the students left to protest the layoffs of several of our teachers.

    Are young people interested to the political process? Yes. Should we enfranchise them? YES.

    • The statistic is DEFINED as "actual voters divided by eligible voters". If that's not the right measure of turnout, and we're concerned only with the raw numbers of voters, then the people who complain about that statistic should shut up already.

  23. A birth certificate or citizenship card should be enough to do the trick.

    • It's not. You need proof of address.

      • Hm, looking at the criteria, I see what you mean. If you're subletting or crashing informally, don't have a vehicle, aren't working, and aren't in a "shelter, soup kitchen, student/senior residence, or long-term care facility", you'd pretty much need some kind of government cheque stub.

  24. Maybe we should go back to the principles of John Stuart Mills…

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