Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party and MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head tabled legislation last week to have the voting age in the province lowered from 18 to 16.
Mat Wright, Weaver’s press secretary, admitted that as it’s a private member’s bill, and there are only a few days left in this session, it’s very unlikely to go far, adding that the government has little interest in pursuing the matter. “They’re not looking to change the voting age at this time.”
Still, it’s an idea Weaver believes would engage youth earlier in the political process. He points out that there is a precedent for lowering the voting age here: it was dropped from 21 to 19 in 1952, and to 18 in 1992. He feels there’s a compelling argument to be made for dropping it even further.
“We allow 16-year-olds to drive, pay taxes, drop out of school, get married, sign up for the military, and work unrestricted hours. Why are we not allowing them to vote?”
Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, and parts of the United Kingdom are some of the jurisdictions that have extended voting rights to 16-year-olds. Scotland lowered the voting age to 16 for its recent independence referendum; a move that was so successful in getting youth out to vote that the voting age has been dropped to 16 for all future Scottish parliament and local government elections.
Lowering the voting age “really does drive voting,” says Wright. “And civics courses are mandated in high school. Teachers are talking about the democratic process, and there is a lot of information available. It’s a great opportunity to get them registered as voters, and interested.”
He notes that many of the arguments against lowering the voting age—that 16-year-olds are too young to make informed decisions, or that they will vote the way their parents tell them to—are easily refuted, and hark back to arguments made when women were attempting to get the vote. “It really does go back to an era of restricted voting.
“The decisions that politicians make today can affect people for 30 or 40 years,” he continues. “Young people want to know if they have a future, and what it will look like in terms of education, housing, jobs. These issues resonate with them, so youth should have a say.”