If Labour is elected to lead parliament in 2016 Ed Miliband has pledged to lower the voting age from 18 to 16. Speaking on Monday, the leader of the opposition said that if he and the Labour party are elected he will open the polls and enfranchise 1.5 million more teens.
The Labour leader said that schools and colleges would have to aid in reversing the fall in registered voters among young people. This appears to have been a ploy by Labour to tempt a younger audience to register to vote considering the low turnout amongst those under 25.
The pressure to lower the voting age comes after the Scottish referendum on whether to leave the union allowed 16 year olds the chance to vote and they responded by turning out in massive numbers. The electoral laws are set to be part of the devolution plans for Scotland with Miliband urging that the change be made law in time for the 2016 elections to the Scottish parliaments. There are also elections due in Wales and Ireland with Miliband again promising to work towards change in those two countries as well.
Miliband in a lengthy statement said, “Britain will only succeed as a country if we give our young people the chance to fulfil their potential and play their part. And when decisions are being taken which affect their future, a democratic country like ours should ensure that they have their voice heard. Too many young people are turning their backs on politics which is bad for our country and bad for them too.”
He would go on to say why he felt this was an important issue saying, “That’s because too often young people don’t get a look-in with politicians who know they can’t vote – or assume that they won’t vote. The measures we will introduce in our first year of government represent the greatest extension of the franchise in my lifetime.”
Mr Miliband would continue to say that he wanted to implement, on a wider scale, the schools initiative which has successfully increased the numbers of young people registered to vote by getting institutions to submit details of year groups as a block. First-time voters, students and those leaving home appear to be the group which are not registered to vote as they have to register as an individual rather than as a household or group.
Current figures warn that as many as a million young people could be missing out on the opportunity to vote if the trend of young people not being registered continues. Labour has in fact warned that tens of thousands have been disappearing from registers in some large cities. “It is not enough just to give young people the right to vote,” Miliband said. “We must do everything we can to ensure they have the chance to exercise it. With more and more young people heading off to study or moving home, it is vital that new rules on electoral registration do not deter them getting the chance to vote.”
This new stance has raised several questions about whether a 16 year old is fit to vote. That, I think, depends mostly on the individual, just because you have the right to vote does not mean you have the capacity to do it or the inclination. If a young person, or any person in fact, is interested in politics they can educate themselves about the parties and their policies without any real difficulty. The issue appears to be fear that young people will not take this vote seriously and could well be too easily influenced; whilst that may be true we can all be influenced by the people we happen to be around. Is 16 too young considering this is the generation that will inherit the problems or policies of those now in power? They have the right to a voice and a say in the future of the country, just as much as anyone else has that right. There can even be an argument made that they have the most to gain by being involved, they will spend the most time dealing with the policies being proposed now.
Although 16 appears young it is a matter for the individual. There are people in their 30s who have never voted and why are they more deserving than a 16 year old who is engaged? This proposal may appear outlandish, but if there is enough support from the 16 and 17 year olds the government will have no choice but to enfranchise them and give them a voice again.