Lowering the voting age to 16:
Many argue that young people should have a say in shaping the policies that directly affect them.
To some, this means having a say in who represents them. To others, it means simply that they should be consulted on particular issues. Some go as far to say that young people should only be able to influence discussions that affect them directly affect: a policy that would have huge implications for the whole voting system if it was extended to all voters.
'No taxation without representation'
The phrase 'no taxation without representation' gets used for all sorts of issues, and is often heard in support of a lower voting age. It comes from the time when the American colonies were resisting the tea tax imposed on them by the British Parliament. They felt their representatives should have a say in decisions that directly affected them.
In regard to the voting age, many people argue that, as many 16 year-olds are tax-payers. They should be able to vote for the people who set those taxes.
However, others say that if we followed this argument to its logical conclusion we would end up giving the vote to young children, because everybody pays tax in one form or another (VAT on sweets and video games, for example).
The main arguments around the lower voting age are in regard to maturity.
Those in favour say that if 16 year-olds are mature enough to make important decisions such as marriage and joining the army, they are therefore mature enough to make decisions about who should represent them in Parliament.
This argument is supported by the increasing amount of consultation with young people on issues of public policy:
'There is a certain illogicality in the fact that the views of young people are much sought after on the implications of public policy, their opinions matter in the formulation of government policy, but yet they cannot vote.' (Thompson 2002)
Too young to make decisions?
Some opponents agree that the ages of decision should be aligned. But they think the age at which other decisions can be made - such as to join the army - should be raised to meet the voting age, not vice versa. They believe that 16 year-olds are not mature enough to make such decisions.
For example, Ellie Levenson (2002, p. 9) of the Fabian Society asks:
'How many of us really think a sixteen year old is capable of making a life changing and legally binding decision such as marriage? Financial institutions certainly do not think so. You must be eighteen to sign binding contracts (except for things that are considered essential for the maintenance of life) or to own land in your own name. Therefore a sixteen year old, married or not, cannot apply for a mortgage or own the house in which they live.'
Age is not the issue
However, maturity and age do not always go together. There will always be people who are not deemed mature enough intellectually:
'My experience of elections... suggests that it would be quite wrong to suggest that everybody over the age of 18 has this maturity, level of knowledge and interest-while nobody aged 16 or 17 possesses these qualities ... This Bill [Voting Age (Reduction to 16)] does not suggest that voting should be compulsory for 16 and 17 year-olds. It would simply allow those who attain the age of 16 by the end of October 2004 to vote in public elections thereafter-if they wish to do so. The age at which it may be appropriate to vote will actually vary from person to person.' (Rennard 2003).
Also, it is argued that plenty of people well over the age of 18 are a lot less capable of making informed decisions than many 16 year-olds:
'Many 18-year-olds do not make informed decisions. In fact many 40-year-olds do not make informed decisions and this does not mean we deny them the vote' (Idebate 2000).
Some people think a lack of maturity will lead to irresponsible voting:
'If we were to lower the voting age from 18 to 16, so bringing in vast numbers of semi-educated-and, indeed, sometimes under-educated-children, we would make democracy in this country even less reliable' (Renton 2003).
Responsible voting not encouraged
Others argue that young people in the UK are not encouraged to vote responsibly.
Many say the current trends of low voter turnout among younger voters prove that most young people are not encouraged to vote at all. They say we have a duty to encourage them:
'Present trends of young voter participation in elections do not paint a rosy picture for the future...
'According to Mori, just 39 per cent of young voters aged 18-24 said they voted [in 2001] and only 45 per cent of those aged 25-34... Only 60 per cent of young people are registered to vote, compared to 92 per cent of the whole electoral population...
'Give them a chance to participate in political life and directly influence the future of their country and some of us might be surprised by their maturity and the idea that those aged sixteen are not capable of voting sensibly will seem even more ridiculous than it does at present'.