Last week, B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver proposed that the province lower its voting age from 18 to 16, an idea that Premier John Horgan was quick to support. The rationale is that if 16 year olds are mature enough to drive, work, and join the army reserves (and join the army proper at 17), they are mature enough to have a say in politics.
While only 56 per cent of registered 18-24 year olds voted in the last provincial election, it’s difficult to see a downside to making the change beyond the potential costs. Horgan said “if you start voting as soon as you can, you will probably vote for life,” and speaking anecdotally, the sentiment rings true. Those who vote once tend to vote every election, but those who never have continue to stay at home.
At 16, young people are in a formative phase, where many are starting to become more aware of the political world, and are engaging in it at a level beyond parroting their parents’ opinions. Sure, they may not be mature in every way, and their opinions will likely change and evolve in one way or the other as they experience more of the world, but does that make their opinions worthless? The same could be said for people at 18, into their 20s and beyond, too — we don’t suddenly become adults with fully developed political opinions on our 18th birthday.
The power to vote is also a valuable tool sparking interest in politics. With the ability to vote while in high school (perhaps literally in their high schools), students may be more inclined to follow current events, to engage in classes teaching them about recent B.C. history and our governmental systems, especially in election years. Perhaps the novelty of voting for the first time would even be greater at that age (it coinciding with getting a learner’s license would certainly feel empowering), and lead to an increased portion of registered teens going to the polls.
Of course, it’s likely that in the discussion of this proposal, some will bring up the argument that such a change is more advantageous to certain parties than others: it’s no secret that the youth vote tends to lean towards the left, favouring the NDP and Green parties who are putting this proposal forward, and leaving the Liberals out in the cold. A survey from Insights West, published a month before B.C.’s 2017 provincial election, showed that if the election were held then:
Voters aged 18-34:
19 per cent would vote Liberals
33 per cent would vote NDP
20 per cent would vote Green
Voters aged 55+:
33 per cent would vote Liberals
28 per cent would vote NDP
11 per cent would vote Green
The 33-54 demographic predictably fell in the middle. Looking at the numbers, it’s plain to see why the Green party would put the notion forward, and the Liberals will likely speak out against it. More young voters would strengthen the Green and NDP vote, especially if they turned up to the polls in high numbers.
But the question is: so what? Sixteen-year-olds are people too, and they live in this province, and will (in the majority of cases) spend most of their life in this province. Electoral systems are changing and evolving creatures, with riding lines redrawn, and rules and regulations changed on a reasonably regular basis, and the possibility of serious election reform potentially on the horizon. The change makes sense, and if the B.C. Liberals don’t think they can win if the voting age is lowered by just two years, that says more about their inability to appeal to enough British Columbians than it does the failings of teen voters.
Image: BC NDP/Flickr