Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Were Canada to raise the voting age to 21, the young would not be disenfranchised but rather would be given back their teeth"

Excellent article in Canada's Macleans magazine advocating raising the voting age there to 21. Most of the arguments equally apply to simply not lowering it. I was asked for an interview a while ago but I've been too busy recently unfortunately.

"Young people don't vote, a problem that's now discussed so much that our eyes can be forgiven for glazing over -- like a teenager's in a civics class -- whenever it's raised. In Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere, there are high-profile campaigns to try and lower the voting age to 16 in the hope it will encourage young people to take part in the democratic process.

But there's a growing body of evidence to suggest that's a wrong-headed approach. Scientific, sociological and demographic evidence indicates that young people are, in essence, too immature and too detached from functioning society to be entrusted with the vote. What if the move to lower the age from 21 to 18 was wrong in the first place and ought to be reversed?

The idea of raising the age of suffrage isn't that far-fetched. It was only in 1970, after all, that the federal government hit upon18 as a good age to start kids voting. But kids today aren't what they were in 1970 -- not the stakeholders in the political process, nor the models of civic engagement their boomer parents once aspired to be. Many today still live at home, more remain in school longer, and more move willy-nilly from job to job before settling on a career. In 1971, 22 per cent of Canadians between 15 and 19 held full-time jobs, compared with just 13 per cent in 2001, according to Statistics Canada. "The traditional adulthood of duty and self-sacrifice is becoming more and more a thing of the past," James Côté, a sociologist at the University of Western Ontario, explains. In 1970, adolescence ended abruptly after the age of 19; now it languishes well into one's 20s or 30s."

Read more -->

P.S. Has the Votes at 16 site gone down again?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

From Cheddar to Stilton

"Young people are much more mature now than they were when I was 16" says Eric Martlew, MP for Carlisle, in support of a recent Early Day Motion.

Did he genuinely mean this or was he appeasing the young 'uns with vacuous compliments? I wonder what evidence he has to back up his definition of maturity?

A dictionary definition offers "The state or quality of being fully grown or developed." As I've noted before, important parts of our brains are still developing at the age of 21. Many teenagers have their growth spurts around the age of 16 and after. Most 16 and 17 yr olds haven't experienced the realities of living independently, and as such, unlike in the 'olden days' often have no idea how to maintain a house, provide their own sustinance or look after a child. Rates of truancy, crime, drug use, drunkeness and violence are higher than ever. The yoof of today have not experienced the hard times of war, rationing and economic depressionthat our parents and grandparents have. What is Martlew's definition of maturity?

I listed Sudan as one of the only countries in the world to have a voting age lower than 18. Despite being a barely literate generation, I would be happy for 16 yr olds in that country to have the vote - the elder sister who has looked after her younger siblings since her parents died of AIDS, the young lad who was kidnapped for the army, escaped, and tried to make a living for himself in agriculture. These are the life experiences that matter, not that a 17 yr old so-and-so who likes their opinions to be heard can drive a car.

Maturity comes through time on this earth, but also through experiences. It's not something that improves in each generation because of better technology or an egalatarian education system. The 21st century teenager isn't forced to grow up too fast, he/she has the leisure to enjoy life during these educative, formative years without real responsibilities. This isn't a bad thing. It won't be long before they mature enough to hone good life skills and attitudes, and it won't be long before they will have the opportunity to vote.

"The right to vote starts at 16"

So says a campaign poster by the votes at 16 campaign.

I was initially impressed with the eye-catching nature of the advert, but the more you ponder on this sentence, the more absurd it seems. Which deity ascribes us the right to go to a polling station once we have been alive for 5844 days? If most of the arguments to reduce the voting age to this number of days of life are cogent, then why are 5843 day olds so inferior?

The only philisophically viable approach to voting age is to either have no voting age at all (I would respect talk of rights in this case), or to believe in a pragmatic starting age - the blatantly obvious watermark in this country being 18, the age of adulthood (although in East Asia, for example, you are not recognised as an adult until 21).