Engaging Our Youth With A Lower Voting Age

My name is Sam Goertz, I’m the President of Greenfield Community League, I work as a Summer Research Assistant for Councillor Michael Walters, I advise Junior Achievement High School groups as well as teach some Junior High classes, I have written for the Alberta Street News, Green Business Canada, and the Green Medium, I have spent the last year working full-time while living with a roommate in our own house, and I am 19 years old.

I am a passionate proponent of community, public engagement, and grassroots politics. I am driven every day by a desire to leave the world a better place then I found it and by the conviction that we ALL have the potential within us to lead fulfilling lives. I believe in the power of community and politics to achieve these ends, and I am an ardent supporter of public engagement and the fact that every voice and vote matters.

I’m also not an exception. I may have a more extensive CV (thanks to incredible opportunities) than other folks my age but I am just one among many passionate young people who want to make the world the best possible place. Giving 16 year olds the right to vote is a powerful tool for accomplishing that.

I wasn’t always a proponent of the Vote16 initiative, just last year, in fact, I was skeptical of what good, if any, could come from giving 16 year olds the right to vote. Thankfully I have been graciously enlightened on the issue and I’m now a passionate supporter of Vote16. Giving 16 year olds the right to vote Municipally and on School Boards (and across all other levels) is not merely good for young voters, it’s good for democracy as a whole.

My initial reticence was largely founded on baseless concerns, chiefly; at 16 did I really know enough about local politics to vote? Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean that other 16 year olds don’t know about the issues nor that they don’t care about them, in fact, young people are often among the most informed in society but express their political will in alternative ways. What’s more, if I had had the right to vote at 16 I likely would have become more politically active and therefore negated the trappings of the “apathetic teen”.

I realized that my objections to lowering the voting age were shallow and that there was a mountain of good that would come from it. Indeed, one needs to only look for a few minutes to gain an appreciation for the positive potential of giving 16 year olds the right to vote. There is a multitude of reasons to lower the voting age to 16 years old, in Edmonton, specifically for municipal politics and school boards, here are my three primary arguments for it:

  • Promoting Engagement: By lowering the voting age we can create a community of learning and a culture of engagement. The vast majority of 16-17 year olds are in school, where they are learning and being challenged. This environment, when coupled with the right to vote is highly conducive to strong engagement. As Councillor McKeen said at Executive Committee on August 16th: “When you’re not part of the club you care less about the club.” Making 16 year olds a part of the club will create engagement, among 16 year olds and their peers but also among families and communities.  
  • Creating Voting Habits: High School is a stable environment for developing voting habits, whereas 18 year olds are often experiencing a wealth of life changes and can sometimes view voting as the least of their worries, high school aged people are in an ideal environment for creating voting habits. People are highly influenced by their social surroundings when it comes to voting, oftentimes folks don’t vote simply because their social groups aren’t politically engaged. In school, young people are surrounded by encouraging teachers and engaged peers, and they experience voting with students unions and things of that ilk. It has been demonstrably proven that voting in the first few elections when one is eligible aids lifelong voting habits. A study done in the United States determined that among people who reported voting in 1968 and 1972 voted 97% of the time in 1974 and 1976. There have also been studies showing that a person who votes in one election is 29% more likely to vote in the next major election. 16 and 17 year olds also tend to vote more than their 18 to 24 year old counterparts, in Scotland, the United Kingdom Electoral Commission estimated 75 percent voter turnout among the 16 and 17­ year­ olds in contrast with 54 percent among 18 to 24­ year­ olds. These practices develop early, and a stable environment is the best way to create lifelong voting habits.                                                  
  • 16 Year Olds Are Ready: It’s been proven that a 16 year old’s political knowledge is about the same as someone aged 21 and close to the average adult’s. In terms of neurological capabilities, 16 year olds have developed the ability to logically analyze information and make rational choices. Anecdotally, it has often been noted that when mock elections are held in high schools that the results mirror those of the rest of society. 16 year olds can work full-time jobs, get married, have children, pay taxes, drive, and do many more of the hallmarks of adulthood, so why not allow them to vote? And ultimately, 18 is and was an arbitrary age, there is no empirical evidence to back up the assertion that 18 is the absolute ideal age to vote, it is simply the accepted norm. By 16, people have developed a social conscience and political interest (or are at least beginning to manifest them), and observing any high school in the country, one can wholeheartedly affirm that. 

I’m the President of my Community League and I’m 19 years old. I’m passionate about community, politics, and creating a wonderful world on every level. Who’s to say if a person is too young for that?

Gratefully,

Sam Goertz