For and Against Lowering the Voting Age: A Round Table

Article 9 / 12 , Vol 36 No 2 (Summer)

For and Against Lowering the Voting Age: A Round Table

Under the Edinburgh Agreement between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government for a referendum on independence of Scotland it was agreed that the franchise could be extended to 16 and 17 year-olds for this vote. On January 24, 2013, the British House of Commons voted by 119 to 46 for a motion to rationalise the extension of the franchise in this respect throughout the United Kingdom. A month later the House of Lords debated the issue of voting age, a topic of interest to legislators in Canada and elsewhere who are concerned about ways to engage youth in politics. The following is an abridged version of some of the interventions for and against lowering the voting age. For the full text of all speeches see Debates of the House of Lords, February 27, 2013.

Lord Tyler: It would be patently inequitable, irrational and absurd to limit this reform of the franchise to one part of the country for one occasion only. As things stand, the same cohort of the Scottish population that will be added to the register for the referendum will then be refused a vote in the general election a few months later. That makes no sense. What if a Westminster, Holyrood or local government by-election poll takes place in Scotland on the same day as the referendum? Are 16 and 17 year-olds to be issued with only one ballot paper for the referendum, but excluded from choosing their representative? Would 16 and 17 year-olds be refused a vote in any subsequent referendum, such as on our continuing membership of the European Union? Quite apart from the issues of principle, let us imagine the complex bureaucratic nightmare of such markedly different registers for different purposes if these inequities are allowed to continue.