Catherine Evans: Voting is a subject better learned at 16
It’s time to lower the voting age to 16. With fewer than 40 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds voting in their first election, our democracy is not looking very democratic. Vancouver municipal elections are particularly hard for new voters to get their heads around. So many candidates, so little opportunity to get to know the people who are running and what they care about.
Lowering the voting age will accomplish two important things: it will get politicians into schools to talk about voting and election issues, and it will increase the likelihood that a parent, sibling, teacher, or friend will be there to help a young person overcome barriers to voting.
Why is it important to get politicians into schools and other places to meet and talk to young people? It is not surprising that many young people have a somewhat jaded view of politicians. Politicians don’t much talk about things young people care about, and when young people do see and hear politicians talking, it’s usually question period clips or interview sound bites—not the kind of thing that inspires or engages the imagination about how the world might be different and better. A personal interaction, however, connects people and gives the chance for new insights and learning. It makes a relationship of trust and mutual respect possible.
Municipal elections are about issues that matter to young people—transit, rental housing, playing fields, bike lanes, community centres, parks, and schools. If 16 and 17-year-olds could vote, politicians—and everyone else—would be forced to take their views about these issues seriously and act accordingly. Young people would in turn hear from politicians about why voting is important. Research shows that when people learn about the importance of voting early in life, they carry that knowledge and the habit of voting throughout their lives.
Barriers to voting are a major issue for many young people. When I’ve been in a polling station on an election day, it’s usually young people who have recently moved that get turned away. Rarely do they come back with the extra document they need. And the line-up to register to vote on election days is often long—having to wait a second time can be too much. But if you voted for the first time when you were still living at home or still in school, and you learned what the barriers are and how they can be overcome, you will be better prepared to tackle the next election on your own.
In our Vision Vancouver nomination race, we understand that young people make good voters. At 15, we welcome you to become a member and vote. As we head toward the fall municipal election, I invite everyone to consider the benefits of lowering the voting age.