Don’t drop the voting age

Extending franchise to 16-year-olds won’t create ‘culture of engagement’


Imagine a world where provincial election campaigns are blithe to promises of tax reform or health care amendments. In this fantasyland, the Liberals are running on a strong platform of increased Justin Bieber performances, while the Conservatives are trailing with their “More School Dances” five-year-plan. The NDP’s “We’ll Talk to your Mom about Extending your Curfew” promise, however, hasn’t really taken off.

A disturbing thought experiment? Thank B.C. Liberal leadership candidate Mike de Jong who has come out saying that 16-year-olds should be able to vote in provincial elections. De Jong has said that we need to create a “culture of engagement” by getting young people to the polls earlier, and that means lowering the voting age. The move, according to de Jong, would also help tackle poor voter turnout numbers.

Handing out free popsicles at polling stations would likely also improve turnout, though I don’t think that recommendation will receive support from some Liberal frontrunners as de Jong’s did.

Of course, it is by no means breaking news that the 18-24 age group is underrepresented at the polls. The reason often comes down to chicken-or-egg explanations; young eligible voters don’t vote because they feel disenfranchised by politicians who ignore their interests, or—inversely—politicians don’t lobby for the youth vote because they show poorly at the polls. Whatever the case, lowering the voting age ignores the root cause (a Band-Aid solution, you say? Naw, it couldn’t be!). While extending the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds would spectacularly increase turnout in the newly-formed “Under 18” category, the relative numbers will be just as abysmal as for those aged 18-24. In fact, they would probably be worse. Statistics show that voter turnout increases with age, even within the 18-24 category. So if those trends are any indication, 16-year-olds would likely have the worst showing of all.

But let’s say, by some stroke of luck or bribery from their parents, these kids did show up to the polls. What would the implications be? Maclean’s columnist Colby Cosh argues that there is “no substitute for living through history.” “The older I get,” he writes, “the less qualified I feel to have secure opinions about horserace politics.” And indeed, Cosh has a point. With few more than 14 years out of diapers, the newly-authorized voters would have little life experience from which to draw political conclusions or cast an informed vote. On the other hand though, being uninformed does not negate one’s right to vote. Even when individuals are back in diapers, they can still cast a ballot, despite their perhaps eroding reasoning abilities. Of course, not all 90-year-olds have lost their wits, whereas no 16-year-old can remember, for example, the tax-happy premier that hijacked the province two terms ago.

Perhaps more problematic with a teeny-bopper electorate is its vulnerability to pressure. There have been countless studies affirming just how susceptible high school students are to outside influence– and just count the number of Canada Goose brand winter jackets you see on teens next time you’re in a mall if you have any doubts. Imagine, then, the political power of a homeroom high school teacher. Or the cool kids in class who happen to be voting NDP. Or Conservative mom promising a Canada Goose parka! When you’re 16 years old and thirsting for affirmation, you’ll get it in any way you can. Politics would become an even dirtier game.

Lastly, it’s important to note that most 16-year-olds have never shopped for a daycare facility for their children. The fortunate majority has never set foot in a palliative care unit, nor waited weeks to see a specialist. Few have tried to start a business, or even paid taxes, for that matter. Sixteen-year-olds should not be voting on that in which they have little stake, particularly during those formative years when “relativism” is just a word on an English pop quiz.


Don’t drop the voting age

  1. Good article. Where do the liberals find these people ? Look at what we have had.
    Trudeau and the Just Society. When will that happen ?
    Cretien and the GST is gone. Sure
    McGuinty and I won’t raise your taxes. Really
    Ignatieff, I will destroy the RCAF, probably true if we are stupid enough to vote liberal, then he will go back to the US with a gigantic pension.

  2. I respectfully disagree.

    Do I vote the same way now that I did when I was 18? No. In fact, not even close. But I had valid reasons for voting that way when I was 18. Maybe I didn’t have the life experiences I do now; instead, I had hope and a vision for the future. That hope is something young voters can bring to the table, and can bring to society.

    Voting is a bit of a skill, an art – you learn more about the parties/candidates/issues with years of experience. I see absolutely no problem with getting a 16-year-old engaged early. It may even help society in the long-run to have experienced voters.

    As a former teenager, I take offense to the trivial matters you “joke” about that they would care about. 16-year-olds have a stake in society and should be able to get more involved.

  3. I find this article slightly insulting. Not all teenagers are clueless when it comes to politics and believe it or not they do care about more than “Justin Bieber” and “More School Dances”. I do agree that most do not really have a good understanding of how the country works, or any interest in finding out. However, I think many, if not most, adults are not much different. I hear complaints about “having” to to vote, and I know people that only change their choice after some very public political scandal; they never bother to read party platforms. And really, how smart is it to constantly expect lower taxes AND higher public funding. Beyond a certain point it becomes one or the other. Is lowering the voting age a good idea? That one is up for debate, but remember that many of the flaws pointed out in our young people are flaws that permeate all of our society. As for me, I’ve been ready to vote for a few years now, and now that I legally can, I fully intend to.

  4. If there is a minimum voting age, why not a maximum? Most 17 year olds are a lot more coherent than most 80 year olds.

  5. I am appalled at this article in regards to the reasons Robyn provides as to not lower the voting age. Her speculation for voter turn out for the 16 and 17 year old group isn’t as accurate if you look at actual results from countries that have lowered the voting age. “In North Rhine-Westphalia, the turnout among 16–21-year-olds18 was slightly below the average for the whole electorate, but clearly higher – by about 5 to 8 percent – than among those aged 21–30. Similar results hold for Lower Saxony, where 16–18-year-olds vote at a level comparable to 35–45-year-olds. Finally, a similar conclusion can be drawn for the 1999 local elections in Saxony-Anhalt.”

    The argument that teens are somehow going to be easily influenced by outside forces is not a strong argument. Firstly, if parents do try to persuade their kids to vote for a particular party, the youth can still vote for any party he or she likes without their parents ever knowing (aka secret ballot). Since I was 18 I have had more political leverage over my family then either of my parents. I know a lot of people who are reaching retirement age who still vote for the party their parents voted for. A lot of 18 year olds have very limited live experience like 16 and 17 year olds, but should we deny them the vote too? On top of this, the last time I looked at Stats Canada, 16 and 17 year olds would only make up about 3% of the voting population, which couldn’t hurt the election results, but may give some youth incentive to vote.

    The strangest thing is 16 year olds can vote and have an opinion in federal political parties, meaning youth can help determine who is the party leader and vote on policies, so why is lowering the voting age to 16 such a difficult idea?

  6. The article, although cliche, is on the mark. It is the adults of the Country that should lead the youth not the youth lead the adults. Life experience accounts for realism not youthful fantasy. Imagine my 16 year old voting and asking for keys for the car to get there!

  7. Sigh… Where to start?

    Arguement against number 1: They probably won’t vote anyways, so they shouldn’t be given the opportunity to try it in the first place. So by extension, any demographic with low turn out should lose the right to vote then too?

    Argument against number 2: “The newly-authorized voters would have little life experience from which to draw political conclusions or cast an informed vote.” So what is the “life experience” threshold at which someone should be eligable to vote? Do people have some sort of magical experience between 16 and 18 that suddenly qualifies them to exercise a democratic right? Should there be a current events quiz handed out at the poll booth? I would suggest that the turn out would be significantly lower if people required an informed opinion before voting.

    Argument against number 3: “a teeny-bopper electorate is its vulnerability to pressure” Are you suggesting that once you turn 18 this no longer occurs? LOL! I can just see the peer pressure vote NPD ’cause Jack’s got the cool facial hair. As a parent, I have to say that you’ve obviously never tried to get a teenager to do much. I can’t imagine trying to force my son to vote. Even if I put him in the poll booth, I’d have no way of knowing whom he voted for.

    Argument against number 4: “Sixteen-year-olds should not be voting on that in which they have little stake” I see. I love this one particulary. So again, trying to follow that line of “logic” seniors shouldn’t be voting in an election involving something like a national daycare strategy. Neither should child-free couples. Straight people shouldn’t be voting about gay marriage.

    The good folks at Macleans should be embarrassed the content of this article! The arguments posted are weak and based upon very negative stereotypes. Ultimately the only half decent argument is that most 16 year olds won’t vote. If that holds true, why is there a concern? 100 – 200 16 year olds voting in most ridings (even assuming they all vote the same way) is NOT going to change the overall outcome of the vote.

  8. I turned 18 just after trudeau lowered the voting age from 21. I had no knowledge or experience to help me make a choice so he got my vote in the following election simply because he had made it possible. By the next election I knew I had been conned and started to learn a bit more about what government is doing. I think the voting age is low enough. few 18 year olds have enough experience to make an informed choice and they know it. That is why few of them show up to vote.

  9. Teachers and unions will no doubt win and sway the majority to vote for the NDP anyway-,…what with all the scale backs and education cuts and portables? I am ALL FOR raising the importance of educating the youth of today on the merits of democracy and political life awareness to carry with them as they grow older. I would put it right up there along with drug and alcohol danger warnings. It will be important to let them know as they grow older and succeed in school and move on to college and university, that maturity has a silver thread of being old enough to vote. I would be worried about poisoning the school yard atmosphere with lies and the off school bullying. Ciao.

  10. I don’t understand. Some of you say that the voting age should be lowered because, among other reasons, 16-17 year olds don’t make up much of the population anyway. So, we want to teach youth that their vote doesn’t matter? What kind of lesson is that?

    The fact is, our society has decided that 18 is the age in which you reach adulthood. Yes, some 16 year olds are mature enough. Some 18 year olds aren’t. But the line has to be drawn somewhere. If we lower it to 16, why not 15? How about 14? The line is exactly where it should be; legal adulthood.

    Oh, and about the quips about dances and Biebs. Maybe you should all lighten up. It’s a joke! Oh well, maybe thicker skin comes with age!

  11. 16, you have got to be kidding, its bad enough 18 year olds can vote. Look at what you see on the streets and at schools. No respect for family, teachers, elders. They assume they know everything and have all the answers, yet when it comes to taking responsibility, nope not them.

  12. I am seriously dissapointed by this article. You are a narrow-minded individual who has no idea what he’s talking about. I’d argue that there are many 16 and 17 year olds who are more ready to vote and more knowledgeable about public affairs than some 20 year olds. Honestly as a kid I used to tell my parents how to vote as I made sure I stayed in the know about politics in canada. Furthermore I think there are huge opportunities to get 16/17 year olds to the polls by making it a part of their school routine and this would mean increased turnout in the 18 to 24 demographic.

    Finally when you say these people would be participating in a system where they have no stake… Sorry they’re stake is in the future and in the poor decisions the government may make now that they will end up paying for down the road. I appreciate ur effort to start a debate about this issue, but I think you went about it in a demeaning way.

  13. This article is extremely ageist. Although I do not think that 16 to 17 year olds should have the right to vote, I don’t agree with the derogatory statements made about our age group! The arguments are weak and completely refutable. Since when has age been a basis for life experience? Just because someone is 50 years old, are they supposed to magically have gained the ability to do basic research in 34 years? Since we are such ‘teeny-boppers’ and just ’14 years out of diapers’, I guess that gives us reason to consider all the older generation just 20 years shy of diapers, and old crones. This kind of thinking about the younger generation is infuriating. And for every teenager wearing a ‘canada goose jacket’, there is a parent or adult who once wore acid wash jeans, or that now drives a car, or likes clothes for their ‘comfort’.
    This is an important debate to be had in politics, and yet I am stunned that such a narrow minded perspective came forward so predominantly.

  14. i think that you should be able to vote at the age of 15 because you understand it then and you know more about it

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