Political Corner: Lower the voting age already!

Young citizens are already engaged in the political process

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A banner reading “climate justice” at a youth climate rally
Young people deserve a say in the issues that affect them. PHOTO: Vincent M.A. Janssen / Pexels

By Olivia Visser, Staff Writer

What gives someone the right to vote? Or, what gives us the right to deny others the privilege? The case for restricting the voting age to 18 and up lies in the belief that adolescents lack the judgment required for voting decisions; this couldn’t be further from the truth. Young people are valuable members of society, and should be given the same legal voting rights as adults. 

It’s not that young Canadians are apathetic about politics. A nationwide youth survey of Canadians aged 10 to 24 found that 88% of participants had thought about who they would vote for in the previous election. A pervasive myth, one respondent suggests, is that older generations consider young Canadians too immature, careless, or deluded to engage in the political process. But that same respondent reminds us that “every generation has people that are all of those things.”

If the voting age depends on someone’s involvement in society, then 16 year olds should definitely have the right to vote. Many adolescents have “adult responsibilities” like caretaking, working, and paying bills. Moreover, young people (and their children) will be around the longest to experience the effects of policy-making. A recent study published in Science found children born in 2020 will experience a “two to seven fold” increase in extreme climate events, compared with those born in 1960. Shouldn’t youth have a say in policies that will impact their futures? 

Research by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement found that young citizens are passionate about social issues, and largely hold different views from previous generations. Climate change is one of the leading issues driving youth political involvement, yet adolescents still aren’t allowed to express their beliefs by voting. Instead, we see young activists driving social change. The School Strike for Climate movement was likely the largest climate protest in history, and it was led by student activists. How’s that for political engagement?

We also know that political involvement in younger age groups leads to future involvement. Scholar Mark N. Franklin argued that “voting is a habit” and “people learn the habit of voting, or not, based on experience in their first few elections.” When Austria lowered its federal voting age, the rate of first-time voters was much higher among 16–17 year olds, compared with 1820 year olds.

The movement to change the federal voting age from 18 to 16 is growing rapidly across the country. In December 2021, a group of young Canadians took the government to court. They argued the voting age restriction violates their Charter rights, which include the right to vote. The Canadian Senate is also discussing the issue. Recently, the NDP launched a bill to lower the voting age. MP Jagmeet Singh said he feels that democracy is threatened as reasoning to grant youth the right to vote.

We’ve already seen successful campaigns to lift voting restrictions for women, Indigenous people, and Asian Canadians. Young people, with their unique perspectives, should be the next bloc of Canadian voters to join the franchise.