A lower voting age risks a lower voting standard
Theodore Roosevelt once said “A vote is like a rifle; its usefulness depends upon the character of the user”.
As the national voting age is again a topic of debate, thanks to a recent Government Green Paper on electoral reform, these are words that we should pause to consider.
At what age is it likely a voter will carefully consider and target their vote instead of just shoot from the hip as they wander into their local polling booth? Some may say never…
The age of 18 remains significant for a whole range of things – it is when we acquire the legal right to make all decisions about our future without reference to our parents; it is the age from when we face adult responsibilities and punishments; and, frequently most celebrated of all, it is when we can legally purchase alcohol and head out for a night on the town without the fear that the bouncer is going to notice that we don’t really look all that much like our older sibling’s ID.
Is granting the right to vote at 18 arbitrary? Yes. But equally so is 16, so why not 15, or 17 or 21?
I’m sure those who think the arbitrary approach to voting age is grossly unfair aren’t out there advocating some sort of voting qualification like a ‘learners test’ a la the drivers license or a return to a property franchise or, equally unlikely, that only taxpayers, heck, only net taxpayers should get the vote because its their money the Government’s spending.
What ever way you decide who gets to vote there are always going to be some people who will not be eligible.
It’s not just Australia that grants the right to vote at 18 – it’s the international norm with 142 countries granting the right to vote at this age, albeit many with numerous other, far more anti-democratic conditions, imposed in addition to an age of qualification.
A core value of our democracy is that we give people a free vote; they make their own, independent decision.
There is a higher risk that 16 year olds will be unable to independently decide how to cast a vote and may be influenced to vote a certain way, especially by parents, peers or teachers.
Equally, voting is a right with which there comes, at least ideally, some responsibility. In the case of the right to vote it is, we hope, the responsibility to give some consideration, to exercise appropriate judgment and to be judicious in your decisions.
Does everyone live up to these criteria? Of course not – witness The Chaser’s fabulously cringe worthy ‘This person votes’ skits during recent elections.
But it is not unreasonable to assert that the younger you go the more voters you are likely to get who do not exercise this responsibility with the deserved judgement and consideration … often because they are simply still developing such knowledge and skills, as we do throughout our whole life.
Polling shows most people – including most young people – don’t think the voting age should be lowered. Even The Democrats’ once wide-ranging Youth Polls consistently showed that about two thirds of young people thought the voting age should not be lowered.
Not content to leave it at that, advocates for a lower voting age now say that those young people who want to vote should be able to do so voluntarily.
Never mind that this could risk widespread confusion about what age people are required to vote, with different ages at state and federal elections. Nor do they seem to mind that this would create an anomaly between the age of voting and minimum age of candidature.
Most worryingly, however, is that optional voting for younger people would create two classes of voters – those who have to and those who don’t.
I have no doubt that there are some 16 year olds who want to vote, but am even more certain that there are millions more over 18 who don’t.
If the Government is advocating voluntary voting for 16 and 17 year olds – why isn’t it good enough for everyone else?
That might be an electoral reform worth considering.
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