I’ve been interested in voting since I was four years old. Because I was young, I didn’t really understand what it meant to vote. I thought that each member of my family should vote for a different colour so that our support would be divided fairly and no one would feel left out. As I walked to the polling station with my mother and watched her choose the red party (which was the colour I had assigned to myself), I was itching to choose a colour too. She told me that I was too young- I’d have to wait until I was eighteen to vote. That seemed like forever to a four-year-old. It still feels that way to this sixteen-year-old because I was just as helpless then as I am now. I would give anything to be able to walk up to the ballot box tomorrow and cast my vote in the Ontario provincial election. I understand how much is at stake here, and I know that if more youth like me were able to make their voices heard, we might just impact the outcome of the election. But what can we do? We aren’t eighteen, so therefore our opinions don’t count.
With the provincial election fast-approaching, I decided to explore the debate around lowering the voting age to sixteen as the subject of a class project. Since I feel passionately about this and the timing is appropriate, I have decided to share the findings of my research here with you. When looking at each side of the debate, I will try my best to be unbiased. Then, once you’ve read my stance, you’ll have all of the resources you need to form an opinion of your own on this issue. Staying informed and understanding all sides of the argument is the best way to ensure that you actually support the side you align yourself with. Whether it’s political parties, social justice issues, or deciding whether to buy a sub or a burger for lunch, not fully understanding an issue will have consequences later on. Who knows what important facts you’re missing? Let’s get things started with the “no” side in the voting age debate.
To understand the “yes” side in this debate, we first have to understand the “no”. The most common argument I came across as to why the voting age should either stay as-is or be raised is that teenagers simply aren’t responsible enough, and in certain aspects that’s true. We live in a state of innocence where we are shielded from things like the cost of living by the adults in our lives. But should we be shielded? One of the things my friends and I agree on is that we want to be able to understand how to do taxes, buy a house, and plan a budget. We just have no idea where to start. I can’t deny that these wouldn’t be the most exciting things to learn about, but I think that it should be mandatory to learn them anyway. Most first-year university students struggle when they’re living on their own because no one’s told them how to manage their lives. In a sense, adults are at fault for their poor life management skills. Because we’re protected from adult issues, as a result we are by no means the most responsible people in the world. We aren’t being treated as the “adults” we’ll become on our eighteenth birthday- we’re still being treated like children in elementary school who get the oversimplified explanations for life’s more complicated issues. In the workplace, youth under eighteen are subject to stricter labour laws than their adult counterparts. It’s becoming harder for teens to get their driver’s license because so many of us aren’t obeying the rules of the road. But does turning eighteen really flip the switch in our brains? Are we any more responsible at eighteen than we were at seventeen years, three-hundred and sixty-four days? The crux of this argument is that teens aren’t responsible, that we’re too ignorant and influenced too much by social media to make an informed decision. We don’t care as much about the issues that our parents do because they don’t affect us. Or maybe, some people think, this is all just a ploy to get a higher voter turnout. Who cares whether the teens are responsible or not- they’re more likely to give a certain party more votes, so why not hand them the opportunity to secure victory? In the grand scheme of things, a two-year decrease in voting age doesn’t amount to much. We can wait two more years.
Looking at it from this angle, it’s true that there are very good arguments as to why the voting age should not be lowered. To me, though, voting doesn’t fit in the same “adult” category as being able to buy alcohol or marijuana. Those are things that can cause harm if used irresponsibly. Voting? It’s a civic duty, not a cigarette. We can’t get addicted to voting and die a slow death because of it. Even if young people aren’t specifically aware of the various parties and their issues, we are aware of our values. We have been raised to value diversity, equity, accountability, and communication. Whichever party embodies the most of those qualities is likely the party we’ll throw our support behind. Young though we may be, we remember which traits made Donald Trump a poor leader and Barack Obama a more successful one. We’ve seen our teachers go on strike because the leadership at the time was denying them the funding they relied on to provide the services we took for granted. Maybe we aren’t sure who we want to lead, but we definitely know who we don’t want. By giving sixteen-year-olds the vote, our voices will shape the future we inherit. Our ability to afford housing, breathe clean air, and receive equitable healthcare depends on who wins this next election. Yes, teens aren’t entirely responsible, and yes, trusting them with the future of the government is a big responsibility, but we’re no less responsible than adults. I’m sure many of you know people who waste their vote or have blind loyalty to a party because it’s the one they’ve always known. Adults may be more informed about the general issues each party campaigns on, but that doesn’t mean that they vote responsibly. Of course, when you’re stuck with a system like First Past the Post it’s hard to choose between voting with your heart and voting strategically, but the outcome has the opportunity to be different if more people educated themselves about what their support really meant. Sure, lower taxes are great, but is it worth losing thousands of dollars in funding from the local hospital during a time when your child needs life-saving treatments? You’ve always voted for a particular party, but does it strike you as odd that they haven’t made it easy to find their party platform online, or that their campaign song never explicitly states their priorities? Looking into these doubts is what makes a responsible voter. Since sixteen-year-olds (in Ontario at least) take a Civics course in Grade Ten, they have all the tools they need to become responsible voters and are arguably more prepared to examine their options critically than the adult population. Exposure to voting at a younger age makes it more likely to become a habit in the future. In a time when voter turnouts are dropping each year, an influx of new voters might be what’s needed to get the hesitant voters to return. As a final argument for giving sixteen-year-olds the right to vote, I’ll remind you that this isn’t exactly a new concept. Brazil and Austria are just two countries whose voting ages are sixteen. Have you ever heard any complaints from them? A study conducted with data from sixteen-year-old Austrian voters showed them to be as capable as adults at making appropriate choices and to have a higher voter turnout than youth over eighteen. Canada likes to promote itself as a progressive nation. Moving to reduce the voting age to sixteen would be an excellent way to prove this while benefiting its youth at the same time.
I hope this analysis of the voting age debate has been both helpful and informative. Since I, a sixteen-year-old, cannot vote tomorrow (And to be clear, I am not pursuing this issue just to suit my own interests), I urge you to take at least twenty minutes before you head to the polling station tomorrow and look up each party’s platform. You don’t want to find out later on that the party you helped elect has a pretty terrible plan for the province’s resources. I also urge any hesitant voters to vote even if doing so may seem worthless. Your voice is just as important as everybody else’s. Perhaps the party you vote for won’t be elected, but every vote against the winner is a vote towards change. It’s a feeble argument, I know. In the face of a force we can’t defeat on our own, all we can do is try. This is where an opportunity to share your views on social media presents itself. Don’t agree with a policy? Say something! If enough constituents demand change, government officials will take notice and *hopefully* do something about it. It’s hard to feel like you have any say in the workings of our government, and with our current system there’s little that can be done to change that. All we can do is our best, so that one day we can look back and say that we tried. I cast my vote in the student mock election today and tried to imagine what a difference it would make for our province and country if the voting age was lowered to sixteen. If those whose futures are at stake were able to have a say in how it plays out. If those who want change had a means of achieving it.
Below are the sources I used during my research for this post:
Al-Hakim, Aya. “House of Commons Debates Lowering Voting Age For Canadians”. Last modified May 5th, 2022. https://globalnews.ca/news/8808934/house-of-commons-voting-age-canada-elections/
Cosh, Colby. “Turning The Age-Old Debate About Teen Voting On Its Head”. NP Comment. National Post, December 4th, 2021. https://nationalpost.com/opinion/colby-cosh-turning-the-age-old-debate-about-teen-voting-on-its-head
Coyne, Andrew. “Lower The Voting Age? You Could Make Just As Good An Argument For Raising It”. Opinion. The Globe and Mail, December 2nd, 2021. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-lower-the-voting-age-you-could-make-just-as-good-an-argument-for/
Wagner, Markus, David Johann, and Sylvia Kritzinger. 2012. “Voting at 16: Turnout and the Quality of Vote Choice.” Electoral Studies 31 (2): 372–83. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4020373/
Wherry, Aaron. “Old Enough To Choose: The Case For Letting Younger Canadians Vote”. Last modified December 8th, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/voting-age-canada-mcphedran-1.6277881