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The Voting Age

Entry 1062, on 2009-07-28 at 21:33:37 (Rating 2, Politics)

A recent news report discussed the idea being looked at by the Rudd government in Australia regarding whether the voting age should be reduced to 16. The current age there is 18 which was set in 1973.

The justification for the idea is that younger people have little interest in the political system and making them eligible to vote might increase that interest. And since its compulsory to vote in Australia I guess they would really be forced to have a certain amount of increased interest.

Supporters of the idea have pointed out that people of that age can work, pay taxes, drive a car, and decide whether to stay at school or not. If they are able to do all this surely they are capable of voting as well. Opponents counter this by saying that 16 year olds have no interest in politics and are unlikely to make an informed decision.

If one of the reasons for the idea is to reduce apathy towards politics then I guess you can't deny the possibility of uninformed decisions being made, but it would be interesting to survey political knowledge of people at different ages. Based on the result of surveys I have seen in the past I think many older people would also be ignorant of a lot of political issues.

It only seems fair that if a person can work and pay tax that they should have some input in to how those taxes are spent so I think younger people should get the vote no matter how poor their political knowledge might be. After all the idea of democracy is that everyone gets to decide on a county's leadership, not just those who can pass some minimum standard. Of course the next question would be: should the age be even younger than 16 and what justification is there to have any age limit?

Another point is compulsory voting. We don't have that in New Zealand and I don't think its a good idea. If a person is insufficiently motivated to vote then their opinion is unlikely to be particularly valuable anyway so maybe them not voting is actually for the best. If the age was reduced to 16 and compulsory voting was scrapped then the overall standard might actually improve.

There's another issue as well. Older people often have fixed ideas which they are very inflexible about. Often change only occurs because older people are replaced by younger. Maybe having younger people vote might produce some original thinking and some flexibility instead of just recycling the same old ideas over and over.

Finally, like most countries the realistic party alternatives in Australia don't exactly offer anything too radical so even if younger people did start voting in odd ways its unlikely to make a lot of difference. So it seems to me the idea is a good one which other countries might also want to look at.

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Comment 1 (2316) by SBFL on 2009-08-01 at 06:16:48:

Not much in your post is convincing. Full of ifs and maybes, For example:

"I guess they would really be forced to have a certain amount of increased interest." - parents often try to force their children to take an interest in many things, and you know how that turns out. If parents struggle, I don't like the chances of government convincing those in their mid-teans that poliics is cool.

"Supporters of the idea have pointed out that people of that age can work, pay taxes, drive a car, and decide whether to stay at school or not." - indeed they can, but on most cases they do not. At the very least they should be in school, and those who aren't usually aren't the country's best and brightest.

"Opponents counter this by saying that 16 year olds have no interest in politics and are unlikely to make an informed decision." - indeed, effort might be better spent to increase political awareness amongst the 18-29 age group first, before opening up voting rights to pimple-faced children.

"It only seems fair that if a person can work and pay tax..." - of course as already mentioned most 16 and 17 year olds pay little if any tax. That after-school job isn't proping up the stimulus package, you know. But you do raise an interesting point. Why not limit voting to those who work and pay tax? "...that they should have some input in to how those taxes are spent". Exactly. Hardly seems fair that people who do not work and contribute tax should have the same voting rights as me and have the same say over how my tax dollars are being spent. No taxation without representation right? If non-taxpayers are voting, then my fair representation is being reduced.

"..not just those who can pass some minimum standard." - so lets get rid of the 5% treshhold in our MMP system? Minimum standards are usually there for a reason. 16 and 17 year olds cannot purchase alcohol in NZ and Australia. Maybe society doesn't deem them mature enough to make informed decisions on alcohol. But we know many of them can. However a minimum standard must be set in these scenarios. It's arguable a 16 & 17 year old knows more about the risks and dangers of alcohol than they do of politics. Yet we don't trust them to purchase it, so why trust them to make an informed vote.

"Often change only occurs because older people are replaced by younger." - try not to state the obvious too much.

"Maybe having younger people vote might produce some original thinking " - yes, that's why 18+ years olds can vote. Most people don't refer to 18, 19 year olds as geriatric. Apparently though, it's not young enough for you?

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Comment 2 (2319) by OJB on 2009-08-01 at 10:17:22:

I agree I have no real research here to back this up, but...

I would think that if they can't vote that would tend to make them feel like they're not part of the system and lead to lack of interest. Surely having the vote would help.

But if some pay taxes should they not have the vote to decide how those taxes are used? I know that's only a fraction of the total but does that mean that to vote you should have a job?

Increasing awareness is fine but the basic principle of who should have the vote and who shouldn't, irrespective of their level of knowledge, is a different issue.

So you are suggesting that if you don't pay tax you don't vote? Interesting idea. Does that mean that all the heads of big corporations who evade tax through the use of accounting tricks don't get to vote?

Yes we should get rid of the 5% threshold. It is blatantly unfair (ask supporters of NZ First and Act). If we are going to impose standards why not make it one based on skill rather than age? When voting the person has to answer a random question about politics as well (just tick the answer to a multi-guess question) and if they get it wrong their vote doesn't count!

Change could also occur because older people realise the world has changed so they should change as well. That was the alternative I was thinking of.

Any age is essentially arbitrary. Whether its 16 or 18 doesn't really matter to me. Just pointing out some of the pros and cons of the issue.

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Comment 3 (2325) by SBFL on 2009-08-01 at 11:31:18:

"tend to make them feel like they're not part of the system " - I don't see the letters to the editor pouring in...

"But if some pay taxes should they not have the vote to decide how those taxes are used?" - I turned 18 on election year and just before it. Others turned 18 just after it. Therefore it is possible a 16yo will get to vote relatively sooner than someone 2 years older. So it's all much ado about nothing. Like you said, any age is essentially arbitrary.

Also, there are many ways to have a say without casting a vote.

"Does that mean that all the heads of big corporations who evade tax through the use of accounting tricks don't get to vote?" - I do chuckle at your leftist prejudices!

"Yes we should get rid of the 5% threshold" - you do realise that the more reactionary Christian parties will get into parliament?

"When voting the person has to answer a random question about politics as well" - and I am sure you will scrutinise this question just as much as the smacking referendum one.

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