A little while ago, Lucas told us about the History of the Vote in BC, and the proposed changes. Today Sasha is here with another proposed change – dropping the voting age to 16. What do you think? Let us know in the comments!
In the 2013 British Columbian provincial election, only 57.1% of eligible voters cast their ballots, 13.9% down from the 70% voter turnout in 1983. What is causing the political apathy that B.C. is witnessing? In order to vote in a British Columbian election, one must be a Canadian citizen, have resided in the province for at least 6 months and be at least 18 years of age on voting day; but it hasn’t always been this way. Historically, women, Indigenous people and those from other ethnic groups have had to fight for their right to vote. The voting age in B.C. was even dropped from 19 to 18 in 1992. Continuing this trend by lowering the voting age to 16 years old will help combat the declining voter turnout that B.C. is seeing and will strengthen the democracy in the province. Most importantly, lowering the voting age will empower youth to be more involved in politics and allow them to become comfortable with this important responsibility.
The voter turnout by age demographic for the 2013 BC provincial election (source: Elections BC and BC Stats)
Permitting 16 year olds to vote in British Columbia will increase the voter turnout. Countries like Austria and Scotland that have already lowered their voting ages have experienced considerable success in this aspect. In the Scottish referendum in 2014, 71% of voters aged 16-17 cast their ballots, which was the highest voter turnout among any age demographic. Elections in Austria have found that within the 16 to 20 age group, 16 year olds had the highest voter turnout. It also appears that there is a “trickle up effect in the whole family when youth are involved in politics,” according to Andrew Weaver, the leader of the BC Green Party, who is pushing for this change to be made. He continues by arguing that the whole family’s voting turnout is positively impacted by the conversations that lowering the voting age will foster. On top of all this, habits formed at a younger age are more likely to become lifelong, so the younger people start voting, the more probable it is that they become lifelong voters. Data for Elections Canada shows that voting consistently for the first few elections results in an 85% chance of creating habitual voters. Allowing teens to vote provincially will encourage them to become lifelong participants in politics, thereby increasing the voter turnout.
Creating a culture of engagement by allowing youth as young as 16 years old to vote will help ensure that democracy is truly being upheld. At 16, teens are expected to become functioning members of society and are able to work, pay taxes, drive, get married, and may be sentenced for crimes as adults under the law. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the part-time and full-time employment rate of those aged 16 to 17 in the U.S. in the past year has ranged from 80.2 to 84.7%, showing that youth do in fact actively participate in society. All of these activities are directly affected by the work of politicians and as Green Party leader Andrew Weaver stated, “the notion of taxation without representation is not one that is founded within our democracy.” Another fundamental pillar of democracy is having everyone’s voice heard, and voting is one of the most effective ways of expressing your values. The final important component of democracy is civil society, or the educated public, and lowering the voting age will encourage youth to become educated through both experience and the buzz created around politics. Currently, 17% of B.C.’s consistent non-voters cited lack of knowledge as the main cause for their apathy, but lowering the voting age will create conversation within peer groups and families and motivate citizens to get educated. It is critical to our democratic process that everyone feels that they have the tools to participate. Lowering the voting age will combat the disenfranchisement of youth and ensure that all voices are heard in dialogue, upholding our standard of democracy.
Finally, allowing 16 year olds to vote provincially in B.C. will empower teens and enable them to become accustomed to this aspect of adult life. Voting gives teens, an age group that is looking to assert itself, a voice, which is hugely important for their development. Efforts to involve youth politically like the Student Vote program have proven themselves to be widely successful, with over 170000 elementary and high school students in the province participating, reinforcing the fact that age doesn’t necessarily indicate political maturity. Enfranchising youth in the political world proves time and time again to be as important as it is beneficial to young people, and as ex B.C. Minister of Finance Mike de Jong said:
Instead of simply decrying the fact that fewer and fewer people are participating, we have to create a culture of engagement, and the only way to do that is to say to a student at a formative time in their lives, you are full members of society, and instead of leaving here and never voting or never voting until you’re 40 or 50, here’s your chance to make a difference. (qtd. in the Globe and Mail)
Keeping youth enfranchised so that they can become acclimated to the adult habit of voting is essential. Sixteen year olds are as capable of making well thought out, or cold cognitive decisions as their older counterparts. There is no reason that youth shouldn’t be able to familiarise themselves with the important responsibility of voting at the younger age of 16 as it will contribute to the enfranchisement and development of teens as well as their habitualization to this important aspect of adult life.
Sixteen year olds should be allowed to cast their ballots in British Columbian provincial elections. Doing so will give teens a voice and allow them to become familiarized with this adult responsibility, help guarantee that democracy is truly taking place by ensuring taxation with representation and will increase the overall voter turnout. With such crucial components of society on the line, enfranchising youth as young as 16 years old by letting them vote is a crucial step in B.C’s development that the provincial government must take.
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