Monday, April 19, 2004

Old enough for a shag round the back of the bikeshed... 

As one of the seemingly few supporters of lowering the voting age, I was disappointed by today's announcement from the electoral commission. I'll happily admit that even among those aged 16-18 there isn't much support, or even interest, for this idea. But for me the important thing is that those who do vote be 'mature' enough to do so; and the politically aware 16 year old is to me no less qualified in this respect than the average 30 year old.

By saying that at 16 people are old enough in general to make important decisions about their lives - with regard to sex, further education, smoking etc. - we have marked that age as a threshold to adulthood. This is fairly arbitrary, since most of us would admit that some are ready for such decisions earlier and many aren't ready until much later. But since we've picked this age, I don't see why the same considerations which make 16 suitable for these decisions can't apply to voting. Yes, the turnout rate will be lower overall; but I think the marker of democracy in this respect is the extent of the franchise, not the number of people turning up. It's entirely unfair to clued up 16 year olds to exclude them from something which people three times their age are equally capable of abusing.

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