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Tuesday, 17 July, 2001, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
'Voting age should come down'
Teenagers celebrating their GCSE results
Voting would start at 16-years-old under new proposals
Voting in general elections should start at the age of 16, says the Electoral Reform Society.

The society, which has monitored British elections for almost 120 years, has decided to back calls for the voting age to be lowered.


People who are old enough to join the army are also old enough to vote on which politicians could send them to war

Ken Ritchie
Electoral Reform Society
It argues 16-year-olds are seen as adults in a range of other ways and so should not be denied a role in democracy.

The call coincides with pressure from some politicians and activists for compulsory voting in the lowest general election turnout since 1918.

Adulthood debate

The society's decision to back the campaign for change came after Lee Pettman, who at 17 is the youngest ever member of the society's council, initiated a debate at its annual general meeting on Saturday.

ERS chief executive Ken Ritchie said: "There is a very valid debate in this country about what constitutes adulthood.

"For tax purposes and in matters such as getting married or getting a job, 16-year-olds are viewed as adults.

"Yet as far as democracy is concerned, adulthood comes at 18."

Mr Ritchie argued that British people who paid taxes should be able to vote on which party gets to spend that money.

"People who are old enough to join the army are also old enough to vote on which politicians could send them to war," he continued.

Citizenship lessons

The introduction of compulsory "citizenship" teaching in schools made 16-year-olds the "most clued up" age group about elections."

An ERS spokesman said the move was unlikely to boost election turnouts.

But he argued: "The youngest age group of voters are always the least likely to vote but if you get people voting earlier they are more likely to vote as they go through the age range."


The government is concerned at the apparent decline in participation in the democratic process in the 18-25 age group

Government spokesman
The call comes as the government faces growing calls for reform of the voting system.

Veteran reform campaign Lord Jenkins last month pressed the government to abandon the first-past-the-post system in an effort to avoid another "disastrous" turnout.

Open issue

The government points out that 18 is the most common minimum voting age throughout the world.

But a spokeswoman for the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, said: "That doesn't mean to say that the subject is closed.

"The government is concerned at the apparent decline in participation in the democratic process in the 18-25 age group."

Lowering the voting age would not necessarily address that problem but the government did want wider discussion on the problem, she added.

The Electoral Commission, set up in February to look at voting issues, publishes its report on the general election next week.

The report is understood to address the issue of voter apathy but not calls for a lower voting age.

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See also:

15 Jul 01 | European
Should Europeans be made to vote?
26 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Jenkins urges voting reform
08 Jun 01 | Vote2001
Voters deliver election snub
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