23 October 2012

Are you old enough?

Recently, Philip Greatrex has written this piece for the NZ Herald in regard to lowering the voting age to 16 (drawn to my attention by James Sleep). It reminded me of this No Right Turn post from 2007 arguing in favour of extending the franchise.

I agree, for the most part, with their arguments. I would like to see the voting age lowered to 16.

As the commentor 'Mike' says on No Right Turn's post: "The idea that someone can have a family, a job, a house (unlikely, admittedly, but theoretically possible), be in the military and not vote to get representation is ridiculous."

 (I'll note for the record Your Honour, it's weird reading a NRT post with comments allowed.)

Discussing this on Twitter, Rachel Carrell made these counter arguments:

1) "16 seems very young. They haven't even finished high school. We knew nothing at 16

2) "I'm Labour member but @ 16 would have definitely voted ACT - entranced by simple answer"

Point 1 is the very generalisation that Philip Greatrex is trying to counter. I call this the 'Political Engagement' argument. I've known of well-informed 16 to 17 year-olds whose political opinions would be as valid as many an 'adult'. Also, I've known of ill-informed older people who I personally hope wouldn't exercise their franchise.

I'd be surprised to find that the sort of 17-year-old who "knew nothing" would suddenly become politically engaged at 18. In any case, as a democracy, we don't stipulate that political engagement is a condition of being a voter. If you're over 18 we don't care how ignorant or foolish you are, you have a say in the government that represents you. I'm not convinced that 18 is a special age of general political engagement.

As for Point 2, I wonder if this governs many people's view on this issue: "Shit, I would have made a dumb choice at 16!"

But where does that slippery slope stop? Someone may consider (as I do) that their libertarian view at age 18 or 19 was evidence of their entrancement to simplistic answers. This might well be the case, but we aren't about to argue for the increase in the voting age to 20, are we? What is the age of political wisdom?

I don't think lowering the voting age is a panacea, but I don't think it will be any kind of impediment to progressive politics.

UPDATE: At the 2012 Labour Party conference, delegates supported a motion that if the party comes to power, it will lower the voting age by two years to 16.