Voter turnout isn’t about the age, it’s about the demographic

Photo: 

Pushing for the voting age to be lowered to 16 misses the bigger picture of voter representation — or rather, who’s missing from the picture.

Inspired by cases of high youth voter turnout during the Scottish referendum and in Britain’s vote to leave the EU, many argue that if Canadian 16-year-olds can work full-time and drive a car, they should be able to partake in the democratic process.

The parallel between driving a car and voting in an election may not be a valid one to make. With youth still living under their parents’ roof most likely leaning towards their parents’ political views, the two are entirely different kinds of independence.

That being said, it’s true that good habits like voting develop over time.

For young people with expanding minds, old enough to formulate their own opinions, being actively involved with government is a sure-fire way to generate an interest in politics at a young age.

Additionally, the accessibility of information via the Internet means 16-year-olds may not be as limited in their understanding of politics as we often assume. They have the resources to know what’s going on in their country — it’s not unreasonable to give them the tool to decide who represents them. 

Even so, a discussion about lowering the voting age simply to increase youth representation in electoral participation brings up a far more important and often overlooked issue — one of demographic, not age.

In defense of lowering the voting age, it’s often cited that youth have the lowest voting turnout. But, according to Statistics Canada, Canadian-born Black millennials between the ages of 20 and 29 turned out to the polls at rates seven to twelve points lower than white Canadian youth. The spotlight needs refocusing.

Lowering the voting age wouldn’t be a magical fix. The disillusionment that many demographics — minority demographics of many kinds, not just youth — face in their political systems will persist. Centering the conversation around electoral reform for youth turns a blind eye to the bigger, more complex picture.

Rather than insist on the significance of age in political reform, the conversation worth having is about the demographics who aren’t seeing themselves represented in our political system.

It’s not about denying 16-year-olds their voting rights — the bigger issue isn’t about them at all.

— Journal Editorial Board 

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.