Voting Age 16

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Neglected for a generation, a troublesome political question is back : when should young people be able to vote for candidates in elections? Conservative peer Lord Lucas of Crudwell and Dingwall recently tabled a Private Members Bill in the Lords. It proposed a voting age of 16. And this week, for the first time, a national coalition has been launched at the Houses of Parliament. The Votes at 16 Campaign is backed by a wide range of groups – from the National Black Youth Forum and Plaid Cymru to the YMCA and Liberal Democrat Youth and Students. Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission’s Sam Younger (true to his surname) has backed an independent review of the current voting age. The Minister for Young People, John Denham, has agreed to look closely at its findings, due the end of this year.

The reformers’ case is strong, and could in practice count as an historic innovation. Most countries where the age of political majority is already lower (the key exception is Brazil) are dictatorships preoccupied with demographics and spin. The campaign for reducing the age of political majority is gathering pace globally, but breakthroughs have so far only been local : in regions (like Scotland, where some local authorities permit 16-year olds to vote in council elections) and in cities such as Cambridge, Massachusetts, whose city council supports votes at 17, and Hanover, which pioneered the voting at 16 that is now the rule in many German states. So Britain has a chance of becoming the first-ever European country to give kids of sixteen the vote. But why should we (or they) take the plunge?

The reformers point to the legal precedents. At sixteen, they say, young people can sleep together, marry (without parental consent in Scotland) and have children. All sixteen year olds can be company directors, or be tried by jury in Crown Court and locked up, or change their name by deed poll, or leave school. Young men (women have to wait another year) can even...
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