Figures released today by the Electoral Commission have shown that record numbers of 17-year-olds have registered to vote in the north in the past year. The statistics show that the number in this age category who have put themselves on the register has leapt from 244 last year to 7,738 this year.
This is great news and shows that contrary to popular perception and in spite of a prolonged period of gridlock in the Assembly, young people do have an active interest in politics and the democratic process.
The next logical step is to extend the franchise to people over the age of 16.
Taxation without representation
As someone who has worked to get young people involved in politics for a number of years, it’s always struck me that many of them are a lot more switched-on and aware of issues than people perhaps twice their age. Yet they cannot put that enthusiasm to use by casting a vote at election time. It’s ridiculous that people aged 16 or 17 can work and pay taxes, yet are denied the right to pick the politicians who will spend those taxes.
This quite literally disenfranchises a significant section of the community.
The voting age was last altered in 1969 when it was cut from 21 to 18. Instead of complaining about young people having a lack of civic responsibility, politicians should now take action to also afford people over 16 the right to actively participate in democracy and become part of the electoral process.
Last year, just before the Assembly elections, the minimum age for candidacy here was dropped from a ridiculous 21 to 18. Since then, a number of 18-year-olds have stood for election or been co-opted onto councils. Far from damaging the democratic process, this has shown that young people can play a full role in society and has sent out a very positive message to these young activists’ peers.
The figures released today just add to the evidence that there should be universal suffrage for everyone over 16.