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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 April, 2004, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Should 16-year-olds get the vote?
The Electoral Commission has recommended that the minimum age for all levels of voting at UK public elections should remain at 18 years.

The Commission however, urged that the minimum candidacy age for Parliament should be reduced from 21 to 18.

The Commission began its year long in response to increasing concerns about declining electoral participation and engagement amongst younger people.

You put your questions to Nicole Smith, Head of Policy, at the Electoral Commission in a LIVE interactive forum.

Only 39% of 18-24 year olds bothered to vote in the 2001 election, according to the pollsters MORI.

Should the voting age should be lowered to 16? How should we confront political apathy in young people?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of the opinion we have received:

It does not seem inappropriate to include the vote
Bruce, Watford, UK
Considering the amount of responsibility placed on a 16 year old (e.g. educational choices for employment) it does not seem inappropriate to include the vote. Generations tend to evolve but the 'older' generations does not always recognise and accept this evolution. I, as one of the older generation, would welcome this as a step forward.
Bruce, Watford, UK

If Tony Blair and Labour calculate that lowering the voting age to 16 will enhance their share of the vote in elections, they will lower it, and if they don't, they won't. But with the number of middle age, middle class Brits emigrating, watch out for disenfranchisement of non-residents. Cynical? You bet I am.
Andrew Milner, Yokohama, Japan

Their involvement in the peace movement has shown that many young people are more politically aware than ever. It is so patronising to say they are not mature enough, when their parents couldn't even see through a charlatan like Tony Blair!
Sian, London, UK

It's easy to see why democracy is failing
Dave, England
What is surprising is that many people of any age bother to vote. In this country your MP doesn't give a hoot about you, or the promises made to get power, they'll just do what they are told by their party leader. Add to that the 'first past the post' system which allows unassailable majorities to be built on 35% of the vote cast - about 20% of the country and it's easy to see why democracy is failing.
Dave, England

I could never understand when I was 16 why I was fit to pay income tax but not fit to have a say in how it was spent. That said, I have been able to vote for ten years now and still have not bothered. Young people will not become interested in politics by being able to vote at a younger age. What is needed is a political system whereby your vote actually makes a difference. Before I moved abroad, I lived in Horsham in Sussex which was always certain to elect a Tory, so why should I bother wasting time going to the polling booth? There are so many people in the same position, that this needs fixing first.
Paul Johnson, Singapore

A lot of people say that 16 year olds should vote as they pay tax. I would be delighted to see the right to vote linked to the payment of income tax. Wasn't that the battle cry of the American revolution, "No taxation without representation!"? How about a new slogan for taxpayer emancipation, "no pay, no say!"? Currently about half of all adults with the vote don't pay tax, which explains a lot. It's all very well to vote for other people's taxes to go up.
Stephen Hayes, Hampshire England

At 16 I was passionate about politics and had been for several years. Many youngsters will not use their vote - like their elders - but the opportunity should be there for those who want it. I am sure there are many bright 16 year olds who have a much stronger grasp of politics than some of the dense adults I meet.
Sheila, UK

There is more to politics than the voting booth!
Ian Henderson, Reading, UK
Just because so few young people make their mark on the ballot paper every 5 years doesn't mean they are politically inactive or apathetic. Many of them realise the lack of choice our corporate 'democracy' gives them, and choose not to validate it by voting. Look at the thousands of young people who marched against the invasion of Iraq and you will realise there is more to politics than the voting booth!
Ian Henderson, Reading, UK

I'm 16 and it is my vehement belief that the voting age should be lowered. I care deeply about our country, I have a flair for politics and am a member of the Labour Party. I do not see why I cannot vote. I have deeply held political beliefs and all I crave is the right to make a difference, to vote, to help the country run as I would like.
Michael Joslin, New Malden, England

16 is too young an age to receive the vote. I firmly believe you can only get a true grasp of politics when you are fully immersed in its effects, and the vast majority of 16 year olds are still buffered by living with their parents. Perhaps it's not voter apathy that needs addressing, but the perception that the two major parties are as distasteful and untrustworthy as each other.
Louise, Canterbury

Something radical does need doing but I do not believe that lowering the minimum voting age to 16 is the solution. Unfortunately, our needs differ with age. What was important to me at 16 is certainly of no importance now, however what is important to me now would be of no concern to a 16 year old. Something does need to be done so that we all get our fair say but I don't believe that lowering the age limit will make any difference.
Sarah, Chester, UK

Parents/carers will simply be provided with an additional vote
ds, Newcastle
No. I really believe that your average sixteen year old has neither the interest nor maturity to utilise a voting right. Parents/carers will simply be provided with an additional vote. Even those actively interested tend to pursue youthful ideals which, whilst admirable are usually impractical.
ds, Newcastle

I recall being at 16 more politically active than I am now, and being incredibly frustrated that I couldn't vote. I was an idealist and believed that politics could be about making people's lives better. It is an attitude that politics sorely needs. And besides which, 16 year olds are deemed old enough to pay tax and go into the Army, amongst other things, which seem to be pretty adult activities to me.
Katherine, London, UK

I can't speak for other respondents but when I was 16, politics was not high on my list of priorities. I lived at home, hated my parents, didn't pay tax, had lots of teenage angst and was more concerned about getting drunk and trying to get girls to sleep with me! I wouldn't have let myself vote and even if I had had the opportunity I probably wouldn't have bothered on point of principle - just to upset my parents!
Karl, Leeds

No. If anything the voting age should be raised to 21. You value and appreciate something much more when you've had to wait for it.
Jane, Wales, UK

Absolutely. In fact, make voting compulsory. To do this, though, would mean improvements in education - you'd have to teach younger people politics. Even basic things like 'this is what left-wing and right-wing means, this is what this party stands for and what their policies mean to you'; that sort of thing. Create an informed, educated voting population and then perhaps governments would feel more accountable to the electorate and be more likely to keep their promises...
Jack, London

What they really need is not the vote, but a good belt for their ludicrously oversized jeans
Simon, London, UK
Are the Electoral Commission mad? The voting age should be raised to about 25. Never have we had such dumbed down youth, with their total disregard for responsibilities but encyclopaedic knowledge of their 'rights'. The day our 16 and 17 year olds get the right to show some maturity of thinking should come on the day they stop tagging, scratching, cussing, spitting and mugging. Why on earth should aspects of my life be decided by those who don't give a stuff about the quality of anyone else's? Just look at their glum, cheerless faces - all attitude and no charisma. What they really need is not the vote, but a good belt for their ludicrously oversized jeans.
Simon, London, UK

The trouble with lowering the age to 16, is this is now an age where political indoctrination from parents and teachers is a real problem. In times past, you left school at 14/15 and learnt a trade. You had been in the world of work by the age of 16. In the modern age you are still very much a child at 16, and do as you are told by adults, if at times a little ingraciously! This could and would include being told who to vote for.
Philip Le Roux, Hampshire England

Well, at 16 you can start a family and you can join the army and fight for your country - so why not give 16 year olds the ability to make a choice in the way the country is run. Changes made to the country affect them too.
Gary H, Cardiff, UK

The legal age to vote should indeed be lowered to 16. At 16, young people can take up adult employment and be taxed on their earnings, yet their have no voice to represent their interests or the uses to which their taxation is applied.
dave, UK, UK

Let's treat them then as mature enough to handle voting at this age!!
Roy Sheward, Walsall
I firmly believe that we need to make 16 the age at which a young person effectively is able to partake in all "adult" activities. This would include voting and drinking in pubs. It seems stupid to have differing ages for differing things - 16 for some, 17 for others and 18 for yet other things. 16 seems to be a sensible time - given that people of this age are able to leave school, work, get married and have children. Let's treat them then as mature enough to handle voting at this age!!
Roy Sheward, Walsall

Lowering the voting age to 16? I don't think so. Currently I am 16, and have only recently learnt the value of being an electorate. This has only been because of the education I have received at school. Currently I am studying Government and Politics, and now realise that apathy among the young is high, and the only way to decrease it, is by educating them.
Miss Khan, Kent

With issues such as pension and housing reform likely to be important over the next 10-15 years, the over 50s have strong incentives to vote and look out for their own interests. The burden of pensions and unaffordable housing will fall on today's young people, children and unborn generations. If these interests are to be represented, young people urgently need to make their votes count. Extending the voting age to 16 might help balance out the growing number of pensioners.
Paul Brione, Oxford, UK

The minimum age for MPs should be 18, as should the voting age. 18 is the age of majority in all of Western Europe, the USA, Australasia and Canada, so why should the UK be different? There are other potential problems with reducing the age to 16 or 17; this affects a whole raft of current legislation, from drinking in pubs to getting married at 16 to the Child Protection Act and the Children Act.
John Collis, Loughborough, UK

I think in the first instance the voting and candidacy ages should be placed on an equal footing of 18 - democracy is about electing one's peers and the only disqualifications should be bankruptcy, criminal record etc, not age. Then a debate on the voting age should be had.
Andrew Stevens, London, England

Should 16-year-olds get vote?
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08 Jul 03  |  Wales
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29 Apr 03  |  Politics


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