DEBATE: Should 16 year olds be allowed to vote?

Thomas Pringle and Emily Hewertson

May 8, 2021

Thomas Pringle, an Independent Deputy for Donegal, argues YES

I believe that 16-year-olds should get the vote. Young people have articulate and determined voices that should be heard in the decisions being made about their own future and safety.

The franchise should be extended for all elections. In 2013, the majority of the participants of the Constitutional Convention in Ireland, comprised of 66 citizens and 33 politicians, agreed that the voting age be reduced to 16.

Doing this would have multiple benefits. It would enable schools to encourage and assist in electoral registration. This could work in tandem with their political education, linking with local youth groups for those who may have left school at 16.

Furthermore, it is unjust that 16-year-olds can be burdened with the responsibility of paying taxes and getting jobs, but they have no say in where their taxes go. If they are contributing to society, surely they deserve to be represented?

Young people are already making their voices heard, rallying around causes and movements which directly affect them. Greta Thunberg’s climate action movement, ‘Friday’s for Future’ saw 10,000 pupils in Dublin alone walk out of school to speak out against global inaction on climate change. It is inspiring to see these mobilised young voices and it clearly shows an awareness that should earn them the vote.

On May 6th, I introduced a Private Members’ Bill calling for a referendum on lowering the voting age to 16. If the referendum is accepted by Irish voters, estimated figures suggest that it would mean upwards of 126,000 young people would be eligible to vote. It is time we engage with these young minds and trust and empower them to have a say over their future.

Emily Hewertson, a politics student at King’s College London, argues NO

When I was 16, one of the biggest votes in British constitutional history occurred. Whatever the result of the Brexit referendum, a profound impact on my future was inevitable. Though I had no say I was content with being snubbed of a vote.

While I kept a keen interest in politics as a teen, I felt in the minority. Electoral statistics reflect this. Turnout is consistently lowest among young people. In the 2019 General Election, where overall turnout was 67.3 per cent, IPSOS Mori estimated the turnout among 18-24-year-olds was a bleak 47 per cent. If a large turnout is a sign of a healthy democracy, then extending the franchise to an even younger age group will only add to the democratic deficit.

Some may argue that if 16-year-olds can join the army, why shouldn’t they vote? But this argument conveniently omits the requirement of parental consent and the fact that servicemen cannot be deployed until the age of 18. As voting is an adult right, you must have to reach the age of legally recognised adulthood.

There is also the issue of rationale. I can certainly recognise that from the ages of 16-18, my views matured considerably. I became far less influenced by the views of my parents, friends, and the echo chambers of social media, where false stories frequently garner hundreds and thousands of retweets. Just a few weeks ago, for example, Twitter, whose majority demographic is younger people, was convinced Priti Patel had spent £77k of taxpayer cash on her eyebrows. Quelle surprise, she had not: it was spent instead on PPE.

Some have even used the above arguments to suggest we raise the voting age to 21. For me, this is a step too far. 18 seems to strike the right balance: it gives politically-minded teens something to look forward to without burdening children into making long-lasting decisions.

For those like me who are interested in politics before voting age, there are plenty of petitions to sign or protests to attend instead.


Written by Thomas Pringle and Emily Hewertson

Thomas Pringle is an independent deputy for Donegal and Emily Hewertson is a politics student at King's College London.


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