Votes at 16?

Lord Norton

Tomorrow (2 May) the House will not be sitting, but people will be sitting in the House.   The UK Youth Parliament will be holding a number of debates in the chamber (only the second time the chamber has been used for a non-parliamentary function), with 300 young people from all over the UK taking part.

They will be debating, among other issues, university tuition fees, representation of young people in the media, and votes at 16.  The issue of votes at 16 is one that has variously been debated in both Houses.  Some people argue that 16-year-olds are politically mature and that if they can get married, join the army and pay taxes they should be allowed to vote.  They also argue that lowering the age may increase voter turnout.  Opponents point out that 16-year-olds can only marry with parental consent, if in the army are not sent to the front-line, and that very few actually pay income tax.   They also note that when the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1969, it did not have the effect of raising voter turnout.

One has to draw an arbitrary line somewhere, but where?  16? Or 18?

10 comments for “Votes at 16?

  1. 01/05/2008 at 1:52 pm

    I came across your blog on Technorati. Nice site layout. I will stop by and read more soon.

    Mike Harmon

  2. 01/05/2008 at 1:54 pm

    18 for sure. Maybe i just getting old and conservative but I can’t see the benefits of reducing the voting age. By reducing the barriers for no good reason (they can wait two years–patience) voting gets cheapened. I really wouldn’t like to see politicians pandering to 16-year-olds. Pandering to the rest of us is bad enough!

  3. Barbelo
    01/05/2008 at 3:14 pm

    Listen and learn?

  4. ladytizzy
    01/05/2008 at 4:03 pm

    Bit of a banana skin question. I suppose it depends on whether you believe voting is more of a responsibility than a right.

    There are plenty of adults who don’t pay tax, are unmarried, not in the forces, don’t smoke, nor drive. Reversing the argument on arbitrary age barriers would be to ban such adults from voting.

    Reducing the voting age to 16 would mean reducing the eligibility to enter local government and parliament at 16 presumably? Why stop at 16? We might then have had the pleasure of reading Hague’s slim volume on Pitt the Foetus (nod to Blackadder).

    The question, for me, is would I vote for someone aged 16, or 18? No, because I don’t believe they have had enough time to take on the responsibility of properly representing their constituency. There’s enough moaning about MPs who haven’t held a ‘proper’ job and don’t understand how the rest of us lives.

    On the subject of voting, I put my Xs on the slips today. While I was there I asked the people at the desk a) why pencils rather than ink and b) what happened to the slips after counting was officially completed. They didn’t know.

    I’ve since found a rather alarming answer to (b) here:,,-1051,00.html
    but not on (a). Anybody?

  5. Matt
    02/05/2008 at 9:01 am

    I’m undecided, but the possible benefit of 16 as yet unmentioned is that if we got young people into the habit of voting at school, where the process can be de-mystified for them, it might improve the turnout of their generation in the long term.

    Having the UKYP meet in Parliament is an excellent idea though – just a pity it’s happening on the one day when everyone interested in politics is looking elsewhere.

  6. Mark Shephard
    02/05/2008 at 4:10 pm

    Chris Dornan – I think it is important that we are not ageist about the groups we ‘pander’ to. 16 year olds are just as entitled to being heard and pandered to as 18 year olds and in your stating this I am inclined towards favouring voting at 16 to partially get around the implications of this way of thinking.
    I also think it is important that we encourage an interest in politics and voting at 16 may have this effect. However, if we are lowering the vote in the hope that turnout will increase (Matt), then the data suggest the reverse. That said, this is more than about levels of turnout at any one election or age. Excluding 16 and 17 year olds from voting may also divert political interests towards other forms of political participation such as protesting that may subsequently discourage more traditional forms of participation like voting in later years. Rules have consequences, and these change over time, as should the debate over 16 or 18.

  7. Stuart
    04/05/2008 at 12:25 am

    Lord Norton, what other electorates start to vote at 16, and are there any countries where the age is even lower?

  8. 09/05/2008 at 7:37 pm

    I will support votes at 16 when half a million 16- and 17-year-olds descend on Parliament Square demanding it. Until then, I’m absolutely convinced that offering this change would simply mean a significantly higher number of people on the electoral register who don’t vote.

  9. lordnorton
    12/05/2008 at 11:11 am

    I realise I have not responded to Stuart’s query regarding practice elsewhere. I do have the data to hand, primarily because a student of mine, Alex Sergent, did his undergraduate dissertation last year on this very topic.

    There are 12 nations that have a voting age lower than 18 for elections to the national legislature:

    In North Korea, Sudan, the Seychelles, and East Timor, the voting age is 17.

    In Bosnia/Herzegovina (if employed, otherwise it is 18), Brazil, Croatia (if employed, otherwise 18), Cuba, Nicaragua, and Slovenia (if employed, otherwise it is 18) the voting age is 16. The voting age is also 16 in the Isle of Man.

    Iran has had a voting age of 15 but this has been increased to 18 for future elections. Indonesia allows 14-year-olds to vote if they are married, otherwise the voting age is 17.

    It is perhaps worth adding that 18 states have a minimum age higher than 18. The Vatican City is the only state in the world to adopt a maximum voting age (of 80)!

  10. lordnorton
    12/05/2008 at 11:12 am

    Not quite sure why the smiley face crept in to my reply. I was explaining that in Slovenia the voting age is 16 if employed, otherwise it is 18.

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