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Monday, September 22, 2008


Andrew Russell

I think Omar is at least as confused as those he seeks to criticise:-

It's good that he provides a link to the Electoral Commission's 2004 Report, it's a shame he's not more familar with the argument therein.

He's right about the distinction between public and private rights (although I note that many of these private rights have become more restricted since 2004 - buying tobacco - as have some public ones - school/training leaving age).

Perhaps he ought to consider the public right the Commission thought most comparable to voting - jury service. Does anyone want 16 year olds on juries? If not why should voting rights be extended?

He admonishes opponents of change for their fixation with turnout and then goes on to claim that turnout will increase if 16-17 year olds are enfranchised.

("Indeed, a lower voting age may even lead to an overall increase in turnout if young people pick up the habit at school and continue to vote throughout their lives – meaning a whole cohort of people more likely to vote than their forebears.")

Really? So by extension all those who learn to abstain in their early lives are lost to democracy forever?

Enfranchising new voters is a change in electoral law. To claim that its success or failure is not connected to the ability of encouraging those new electors to actually vote is bizarre (but perhaps does show the paucity of the old (young voters will increase turnout) argument).

Perhaps this argument is used for lack of empirical support. It seems for Omar, evidence is there to be ignorned:-

The only study of verified turnout of 'attainers' shows that turnout for 18 year olds in 2001 was 44% - against a national turnout of 59%

In the Isle of Man just over 1/3 (698) of all (1800) 16-17 year olds actually registered to vote in the Tynwald election last year.

Germany's flirtation with enfranchising 16-17 year olds for federal elections was politically driven and was repealed by the incoming administration in each case where a different party came to power. Moreover, on the Commission's fact-finding trip to Germany we could not find any verifiable evidence that turnout amongst this group was significantly higher than other groups of young voters.

It's hard to find any evidence to back up the wishful thinking that a democratic deficit could be repaired by enfranchising 16-17 year olds, and there's some evidence that it could actually make things worse.

These are only some of the reasons why the Commission came to its decision in 2004. It was right to not recommend lowering the voting age in 2004 (but significantly recommended changing the minimum age for eligibility to stand for election); nothing has changed since. Perhaps that's why Labour set up a Youth Citizenship Commission to consider this and then recommended the adoption of this policy before waiting to find out what the Commission said.

Michael Calderbank

Several silly straw men erected here, Andrew. You might well be right to suggest that 16-17 year olds are proportionally less likely to vote as things stand. But why should this necessarily mitigate against their enfranchisement? Thirty year olds are less likely to vote than Seventy year olds. Perhaps they should be denied voting rights? Doesn't this suggest that there is evidence of a long term generational decline in voter engagement? In which case, shouldn't we be seeking imaginative reforms in order to make democratic structures seem relevant to a wide cross section of society, rather than impotently clinging onto present, failing, arrangements?

The comparison with jury service is totally bogus. A sixteen-year old might feel intimidated by the process of group deliberation with older adults, or feel pressured into accepting the consensus of the rest of the jury. Whereas the ballot, crucially, is secret and one persons is just as free to cast their vote free from direct intimidation as is the next. In fact, the civic responsibility to freely exercise one's opinion seems like very good training for the extra burdens of jury service.

Andrew Russell

Silly Straw Men?
Like I said, evidence is there to be ignored.

Pointing out the electoral consequences of changing electoral law? How very dare I?

I don't accept that jury service is that different to voting - both are civic actions requiring the weighing up of a series of arguments and coming to a conclusion about a set of likely outcomes of your actions. Certainly better than any of the comparisons to riding a moped or getting married with parental consent.

FWIW I'm all in favour of "imaginative reforms in order to make democratic structures seem relevant to a wide cross section of society, rather than impotently clinging onto present, failing, arrangements". In the Political Studies Association's Response the Governance of Britain green paper, I enquired why there hadn't been a similar discussion of potential reform of the electoral system or the question of compulsory voting (both of which are likely to broaden the concept of participation - whereas enfranchising swathes of non-voters is unlikely to fundamentally address the notion of engagement).

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