A NEW REFORM ACT TO EXTEND UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE TO THE AGE OF 16


In 1918, after the suffragette campaign, the fourth reform act was introduced, famously granting suffrage to women over the age of 30. In 1928 the fifth great reform act was passed, another revolutionary act which made female suffrage equal to male suffrage at the age of 21. Forty-one years later the sixth great reform act extended the franchise to 18 after a high court appeal by the NUS. Today, there is an opportunity to make history; there is a strong case for an additional reform act, which would extend suffrage to the age of 16. This article puts the case for the extension of the franchise.

Those arguing against votes at 16 claim that 16-17 year olds are politically ignorant and apathetic to politics; that 16-year-olds lack maturity and understanding of the significance of such an issue as important as voting; and that extending the franchise would be a simple waste of taxpayers' money and would only reduce the electoral turnouts.

However, we are largely responsible young adults, who are mature enough to make significant decisions regarding our own future. For example, whether to remain in full-time education or get a job, or even join the army. Those who remain in full-time education then must chose their A-levels subjects or other equivalent qualifications, which will determine their career. Why then, if 16 year olds are deemed mature and responsible enough to join the armed forces, are they not deemed responsible or mature enough to elect those responsible for sending the armed forces to war? In addition, since 16 year olds already make substantial decisions regarding their own lives, why are they deemed irresponsible to be trusted with the right to elect their rulers?

As to reducing electoral turnouts, they are already at a record low: the 2005 general election had a turnout of 61.3%, and the recent Church Street by-election in Westminster (Council) had a turnout of a feeble 17%. Also, it is impossible to classify all 16-17 year olds as a single group, we are in fact each individually minded and will chose to vote in a certain way or not vote at all. Also, as the electoral figures demonstrate, there is an existing apathy and lack of interest in politics among the general public, not a specific age group, showing a failure of all political parties to win widespread support and engage the public in the democratic process. Many 16-17 year olds are more actively involved in politics than many of their older peers: some are members of political parties, and more are members of pressure groups which tend to have more of an appeal to young people. Record numbers of 16-17 year olds choose to study politics at A-level, and many more chose to study it university.

Furthermore, political ignorance is no reason to deprive an individual of their democratic rights: there are and always have been and always will be politically ignorant individuals of all age groups, yet their suffrage is not taken away from them. Moreover, extending the franchise to 16 and granting increased rights and responsibilities is likely to improve the self and public image of youths, in face of the constant demonization of youths by the media.

Lorin Bell-Cross
Compass Youth Activist

2 comments:

noel said...

It's about giving the power for 16 year olds to be genuine citizens and to feel the trust we're putting into them, rather than castigating them with mosquito noises and asbos.

It's about equality and it's about valuing the positive role young people can play and giving them the social responsibility to exercise their rights.

So it's not just about voting at 16, it's also about getting rid of a lower minimum wage for 16-22 year olds. New Zealand have showed the way and equalised it, have we got the courage to do so?

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