There are several claims made for votes at 16 which are decidedly spurious. I don’t believe – for example – that giving 16 year olds the vote will increase participation. If anything, it could mean that while more people vote, a smaller percentage of the increased electorate do so.
I equally don’t believe it’s fair to recite the “no taxation without representation” argument. For a start, some 16 year olds earn (and pay income tax) and some do not, but the same can be said of any age. Equally, pretty much as soon as you reach pocket money age you’re like to have paid some VAT even if just on tampons and downloads. I don’t think we should head down a path of thresholds on how much tax we pay before we can vote or we’ll be on a very slippery slope indeed.
But for me, the arguments wheeled out against expanding the franchise to 16 year olds are more flawed.
Sometimes, the fact that it won’t solve the wider issues of participation is presented as an argument against. It’s not. Those who want to solve our democratic problems may be fellow travellers but their being wrong on a consequence of change does not make the change in itself wrong.
One argument against is that 16 year olds are too immature to vote. This is true for some. It’s also true for some 18 year olds (and several people considerably older than that and currently politically active (anyone who thinks wearing a V for Vendetta mask is a reasonably, well made political statement – I’m looking at you).
There is also a concern that these 16 year olds will be too likely to be influenced by their parents, on whom they are dependent. This seems to me to be based on a middle-class and long gone vision of growing up where children leave home at 18 and head off for university never to return.
If this was ever the norm, it sure as hell isn’t now. So many young people are stuck living with their parents well into their 30s now. Should their ability to have a say on the policies that cause low wages, soaring rents and housing shortages be curtailed because of their financial dependence on their parents?
Too many of these objections stem from a dark history of the franchise being tied to property ownership. These arguments should have no truck on the egalitarian left.
For me, voting is a positive right. It should not be restricted from those willing and capable of doing so because others are less capable or less likely to take action. While we have limits to who can vote and who can’t those should – as far as possible – be expanded.
Professionally, I spend time with young people who are taking apprenticeships. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that there isn’t a great deal of difference between the 16 and 18 year olds. They are all bright, sparky and determined to succeed. They also all thrive on being given responsibility; it’s what helps them develop a pride in their work. I would give every one of those young people the vote.
Change is scary, I get that. Some will continue to argue that it is unwise to risk the good we already have for the evil that may occur. But that’s an argument that has been used before. It was wrong then, it’s wrong now.
On votes at 16 – as on any positive right, I believe the balance of evidence should be in proving why it would be harmful. For me I see nothing that persuades me that it would be. Given that, refusing this right to those who want to exercise it is just plain wrong.