Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Lowering the age of voter registration to 16: An idea worth looking at

I've been reading up lately on the potential benefits to lowering the age of voter registration. The BC NDP has tabled some legislation to lower the age of voter registration to 16, based on a recommendation from the Chief Electoral Officer of BC in 2011:

The lowest voter registration rates are for young voters 18-24 years of age. There is a 
positive correlation between voting and being registered as a voter before General Voting 
Day. The most effective means of registering youth may be to approach them before they 
graduate from high school. Currently, voter registration is restricted to those at least 18 
years of age, an age when many youth have left high school. 

Australia has addressed this issue by allowing provisional voter registration of 17 year 
olds. Several American states have provisional registration for 16 or 17 year olds, or 
have introduced Bills or declared their intention to do so in this regard.

Legislators may wish to consider allowing the provisional registration of individuals 
when they are 16 years of age. The voting age could remain at 18, with provisional 
registration becoming an active registration on an individual’s 18th birthday. Permitting 
early registration at the age of 16 would permit Elections BC to work with schools and 
the driver licensing program to ensure maximum exposure to the registration process for 
young voters. Many high school teachers have expressed support for this concept as it 
would allow meaningful action by their students in the context of civics education. 
Improving the accessibility of registration opportunities for youth may have a longer-term 
effect on voter engagement and turnout.

Here is another good piece on the possible benefits of lowering the age of voter registration and the experiences of several US states.

Lowering the actual age of voting is oft debated, but I'm not convinced that it would have an overall positive impact on youth voter turnout percentage. Allowing (or perhaps even making it a part of high school civics class) is a solid, workable way to address issues of youth voter turnout and youth engagement, and I think it's worth examining by governments.

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