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The Voting Age

A recent news report discussed the idea being looked at by the Rudd government in Australia regarding whether the voting age should be reduced to 16. The current age there is 18 which was set in 1973.

The justification for the idea is that younger people have little interest in the political system and making them eligible to vote might increase that interest. And since its compulsory to vote in Australia I guess they would really be forced to have a certain amount of increased interest.

Supporters of the idea have pointed out that people of that age can work, pay taxes, drive a car, and decide whether to stay at school or not. If they are able to do all this surely they are capable of voting as well. Opponents counter this by saying that 16 year olds have no interest in politics and are unlikely to make an informed decision.

If one of the reasons for the idea is to reduce apathy towards politics then I guess you can’t deny the possibility of uninformed decisions being made, but it would be interesting to survey political knowledge of people at different ages. Based on the result of surveys I have seen in the past I think many older people would also be ignorant of a lot of political issues.

It only seems fair that if a person can work and pay tax that they should have some input in to how those taxes are spent so I think younger people should get the vote no matter how poor their political knowledge might be. After all the idea of democracy is that everyone gets to decide on a county’s leadership, not just those who can pass some minimum standard. Of course the next question would be: should the age be even younger than 16 and what justification is there to have any age limit?

Another point is compulsory voting. We don’t have that in New Zealand and I don’t think its a good idea. If a person is insufficiently motivated to vote then their opinion is unlikely to be particularly valuable anyway so maybe them not voting is actually for the best. If the age was reduced to 16 and compulsory voting was scrapped then the overall standard might actually improve.

There’s another issue as well. Older people often have fixed ideas which they are very inflexible about. Often change only occurs because older people are replaced by younger. Maybe having younger people vote might produce some original thinking and some flexibility instead of just recycling the same old ideas over and over.

Finally, like most countries the realistic party alternatives in Australia don’t exactly offer anything too radical so even if younger people did start voting in odd ways its unlikely to make a lot of difference. So it seems to me the idea is a good one which other countries might also want to look at.

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