UK Youth Parliament has commenced their campaign to ensure all 1.5 million 16 and 17-year-olds can vote in elections. The aim of the year-long campaign is to build on the increasing support for a lower voting age of 16 in all elections and referenda. Today’s National Day of Action will see Members of Youth Parliament call on politicians and schools to take part in campaign activities such as talks, and events.
Over the next year, UK Youth Parliament will campaign, with the support of the Votes at 16 Coalition, to widen the conversation, increase support among decision makers and highlight young people’s current participation in democracy. The Votes at 16 Coalition has worked to make the case for votes at 16 since its establishment by the British Youth Council in 2003.
The campaign starts following the Make Your Mark ballot which took place in the autumn of 2016 which saw the issue become one of the top five issues with 112,680 young people nominating it as their most important issue. In a subsequent vote by Members of Youth Parliament in the House of Commons votes at 16 was chosen as the next national campaign.
Lucy Boardman, 17, Member of Youth Parliament for Stockport said: “Votes at 16 is gaining more and more support, and it’s vital that we keep this momentum going when the democratic voices of 16 and 17-year-olds continue to be ignored. It’s unacceptable that 1.5 million young people were denied a vote in the EU Referendum last year; a historical decision that will affect us for generations to come. We must continue to strive towards Votes at 16, to ensure that the voices and opinions of young people across the UK, are listened to. This year we’ll be calling on local authorities and decision makers to come out in support of Votes at 16, and give the next generation the chance to have their voices heard.”
Anna Barker, Chair of the British Youth Council said: “The denial of 16 and 17-year-olds at the ballot box remains an issue that young people have challenged since as early as 1992. I’m delighted to hear Members of Youth Parliament across the country will be calling on local decision makers to support votes at 16. This year, UK Youth Parliament will think national, but act locally in its attempts to change minds and challenge the status quo. It’s time we had some parity on the issue. Scottish 16 and 17-year-olds have been empowered to vote. Now it’s right that young people across the UK are afforded and entrusted with the same rights.”
Over the past 14 years, the Votes at 16 Coalition have been tracking support for a lower voting age. Their research indicates all Members of Scottish Parliament in unanimous support, huge increases in support within the House of Lords and as many as for 41% of Members of Parliament declaring their support for votes at 16. Recently we’ve also seen local authorities such as Norwich City Council, come forward in support and this year we’re hoping to engage with even more local councils.
In 2014, 75% of 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland voted in the independence referendum, a vote that has set a precedent and should serve as proof that when young people feel they have an authentic opportunity to influence change they will take part. We’re hoping the common sense argument will prevail – alongside a ‘curriculum for life’ with citizenship/political education and easy voter registration, votes at 16 is not only good for the future of democracy but a necessary change.