This is not a new idea. It has been discussed and proposed for some time now. In fact, the proposal has been brought to the Canadian House of Commons as a private members bill several times. Of course, the idea has yet to gain traction, and these private members bills are unlikely to pass in the near future. But it’s not unthinkable that one day the required legislation will get through the House of Commons and the Senate. Other countries such as Brazil and Argentina have been able to lower the voting age. So it may be only a matter of time before Canada joins them.
The arguments in favour of lowering the voting age limit to sixteen are fairly straight forward and obvious. Sixteen year olds are allowed to drive; they’re able to work; they pay taxes; and at sixteen they would have recently completed a high school course on civics. All of these things point to the fact that a sixteen year old is educated enough to make a meaningful decision and has an incentive to do so as many election issues directly affect them.
Of course there are many more arguments in favour of lowering the voting age that go into the effectiveness of a democracy and how to better engage with citizens and increase voter turnout. These are certainly things to consider and can make lowering the voting age an even more appealing proposition.
The two biggest obstacles to bringing about this change are apathy and opposition without good reason.
The apathy aspect of this is expected. This would be a change that would generally not affect people who already vote other than to slightly change election results. It’s something that most people haven’t given much thought to. And apathy is a trait that already affects the electorate when it comes to anything political. This apathy can be countered by continuing to bring the issue up.
The second obstacle is more problematic. Many people who become acquainted with the idea will immediately decide it’s a bad idea and will then generate a list of reasons why it’s a bad idea. Below is a list of commonly cited reasons that detractors have come up with:
- “They’re just too young.”
On its own, this point is of no substance since “too young” is just an arbitrary label.
- “Sixteen year olds don’t really care about politics.”
It is true that some sixteen year olds are apathetic. What’s the problem? The purpose of this proposal is to give sixteen year olds who are interested in politics the ability to vote. There are apathetic voters in every age group.
- “It won’t hurt them to wait just two more years.”
This argument is true or false depending on what “hurt” means. The government can enact laws which have negative effects on sixteen year olds. So in that sense there is potential for harm. If the point is that waiting two years won’t cause bodily harm than that’s probably true. But it’s also not an argument against the proposal.
- “They don’t know what it’s like to own property by themselves, or pay taxes on that property.”
That’s true, but what does that have to do with voting? There are many voters who don’t meet this criterion and yet are capable of voting.
- “16-year olds cannot join the military, and should therefore not be able to vote.”
This is just flatly wrong. In Canada sixteen year olds can join the Regular Officer Training Plan or the Reserve Force while seventeen years olds can join the Forces at large.
- “The brain is still developing until the mid-20s.”
Again, this is true but doesn’t really have relevance. We don’t restrict people from voting based on their mental ability. Additionally, there isn’t any evidence that sixteen year olds lack the ability to make rational decisions based on good reasoning.
- “They’ll just vote for the person that’s most popular or who their friends are voting for.”
This is just an incredibly insulting assumption that isn’t evidence based. Sixteen year olds are absolutely able to make decisions based on good reasons. They’re also capable of making decisions for bad reasons just like all age groups are.
The people who argue against the proposal fail to outline any negative consequences of allowing sixteen year olds to vote. They set up criteria for which a large percentage of the electorate would not pass; criteria which does not have a direct relation to a person’s right or incentive to vote. And they’re also unable to counter the arguments in favour of the proposal.
Ultimately, sixteen year olds should have the right to vote and Canada should join other countries around the world in bringing about this change.