— Edmonton Journal (@edmontonjournal) August 23, 2016
Should the voting age be lowered from 18 to 16?
Edmonton city council seems to think so:
Edmonton city council has voted to endorse the vote at 16 proposal and send a letter asking the Alberta government to consider lowering the voting age to 16 for civic elections.
Council voted 7-6 in favour of the motion Tuesday.
A five-member committee voted unanimously in favour of lending its support to the Edmonton Youth Council lobby effort last week.
“I think it could be really close,” said Coun. Michael Oshry before the vote Tuesday, who said he immediately regretted his yes vote last week.
“In retrospect, I should have voted against it,” he said. “It’s the experiences of having a job and balancing a budget. I just don’t think it’s right. … I take the honour of voting very seriously.”
Oshry said most 16-year-olds are not mature enough to vote, they don’t pay taxes and they are not treated as fully-responsible adults in the criminal courts. Plus, he doesn’t think the move will lead to as much increased engagement long-term as advocates believe. “When you add all these reasons together, I think it’s not the right thing.”
While I can appreciate and respect that there are 16 and 17-year olds who are politically informed and engaged (and undoubtedly many voting-age adults who are completely uninformed and tuned out), I have to agree with Councillor Oshry’s position here: it makes sense to leave the duty of voting to adults. It might be arbitrary to consider 18-year-olds to be adults in the first place, but it’s an accepted convention throughout our society. Once we concede that voting is not the exclusive domain of adults, then what is the argument against allowing 15-year-olds to vote?
As the Edmonton Journal’s David Staples notes:
Most troubling is the double standard that this change will bring about. On the one hand, 16- and 17-year-olds are being told, yes, you’re mature and adult enough to vote. But when 16- and 17-year-olds commit a crime, there’s an entirely different message from government: “Young people lack the maturity of adults.” That line comes from a federal Justice Department document explaining the rationale for the Youth Criminal Justice Act, where those under the age of 18 are treated much differently and more leniently under the law.
The day that I hear politicians passionately argue that 16-year-olds are now so mature that the Youth Criminal Justice Act is no longer needed, well, I might then accept the notion that they are also mature enough to vote. But I don’t expect that day to come because young people aren’t suddenly maturing more rapidly.
In other spheres of life, the lack of maturity among teenagers is why those under 18 can’t sign legally binding contracts and it’s why parents are legally bound to care for their children until they turn 18.
Also this point from columnist Colby Cosh:
…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.