Monday 16 June 2008

Teenage Voting

I was reading an article on about the education system in the US and there was a quote that read:
Our educational system is the only major institution in our country that officially recognizes autocracy (in contrast to democracy) as its principle type of government.
I don't think that's correct. Rather, the education system is one of the few major institutions to deal essentially entirely with children; and children are dealt with pretty much universally as if they were living in an autocracy. That got me thinking about engaging teenagers in democracy. I wondered if there mightn't be some forward-looking European nation that included the under-18's somehow in the process.

The only case I can find is a BBC article stating the the Isle of Man has lowered their voting age to 16. This seems a reasonable enough action to me, despite the call by others (one example from a Maclean's article parodied here) that the age should be raised to 21 because "young people today have essentially tuned out". Yeah, preventing them from voting will really help them tune back in.

New York City apparently proposed a bill to lower the voting age to 16 and so have California and a number of other states, but as far as I can find, none have yet passed. The arguments in favour include: getting teenagers used to voting; that they pay sales and, often, income tax without any control over where the money goes; that they can be tried for crimes as an adult after 16 but can't affect the laws; that 18 is a bad age to start voting because students are heading off to college and have too much other stuff on their plates; and (most important to me) that they have more invested in the future than anyone else. I'm not even that old and I already have a slight trepidation at trusting "kids today" to cast a vote, but I'm still young enough to remember that I had perfectly valid and rational opinions in highschool.

I don't even know if you need to lower the voting age. The Californian bill initally proposed that "each 16- or 17-year-old's vote count as half an adult vote and each 14- and 15-year old's vote a quarter" (reference) but that was dropped before the bill was floored. Or what if, for example, everyone over 12 but under the voting age (whether it be 16 or 18) was invited to the polling stations and given a different ballot to cast. It would have the same choices but would only be advisory: the results would be reported, which would provide feedback to government, engage youth, and introduce them to the voting process. If you're concerned about children just voting randomly or following their parents (not that it really matters: adults do the same anyway) there could be a place on these ballots for written comments. They're informational anyway and what better way to get feedback from interested youth. I don't know... just a wild idea.

My favourite quote was in an article discussing a California bill to preregister 16- and 17-year-olds so they would automatically be ready to vote when they turn 18. A Republican assemblymam who was against the bill says:
The truth is, when you're young you tend to think like a liberal. As you get older and wiser … you tend to become more conservative.
Ha! So we shouldn't even help register young people to vote because they'll be liberals! The article goes on to say that Democrats killed legislation to require voters to show photo ID, and that Republicans killed legislation to allow citizens to register on voting day.

This makes me want to start my normal rant on party politics and career politicians, but I won't. In the end, though, the issue isn't so much specifically about youth. It's about politicians who have been elected by the current system being reluctant to change it. Whether the issue is proportional representation, holding polling days on weekends, or reducing the voting age (all of which could potentially increase voter turn out and the accurate reflection of their vote), the status quo seems just too tempting.

1 comment:

Dave Cameron said...

The article that appears when I search for "teenage voting" has disappeared, but is discussed here:

California will allow 14 and 15 year olds to vote, but their vote will count as 1/4 of an adult vote. 16 and 17 year olds will have their vote counted as 1/2 of an adult vote. Not quite democracy (where's the equality?) but interesting.