In Australia, the current voting age is 18 years old. The same age required to drink and be considered an ‘adult’. However, recent political activism by youth, regarding the same-sex marriage debate and climate change has raised the question of whether the voting age should be lowered.
So should the voting age be lowered to 16?
Yes, but for 16 and 17-year old’s it should be voluntary.
As highlighted in the recent climate change rallies, it is young people who are most likely going to feel the long-term effects of today’s political decisions. By the age of 16, individuals can learn to drive, have a job and consent to sexual intercourse, so why shouldn’t they be able to vote too if they wish?
Furthermore, the opportunity to vote while individuals are still at school could assist in introducing political conversation within schools, allowing youth to understand politics and who they want to vote for. Greens Senator Jordan Steele-John, who set up a joint committee to address this topic, agrees with this perspective stating, “One of the things this reform gives the opportunity to do is to bring the democratic process into the classroom in a tangible way”. He went on to further state that “If such a proposal (reducing the voting age) were to be made legal, major political parties would focus more on policies targeting young people”. These statements highlight how not only lowering the voting age would make youth more politically involved, but also improve the responsiveness of the government to addressing issues faced by youth.
The primary reason to make the voting optional is to acknowledge that there is youth who are not politically interested and are still under the guardianship of their parents. The gradual approach provides the option for youth if they wish to become involved while they are under 18 years of age.
Many people argue that voting shouldn’t be lowered as young people have little knowledge of politics and the government. However, this statement can be applied to many adults, making the point invalid.
A 2016 survey by the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes found that nearly 80% of Australians are in support of 16-18-year-olds having opportunities to influence government decisions, which includes voting in elections. It is time for youth to have the chance to make their voice not only heard but contribute to the running of the nation.