Headlines: January 28th, 2005

The government has unveiled plans to lower the age at which people can stand for election from 21 to 18. It follows the recommendations made by the Electoral Commission last year. No steps will be taken at this stage to reduce the voting age.The Commission was established to look at ways to encourage public involvement in the democratic process. The Elections Minister, Christopher Leslie, said giving younger people the right to participate fully in elections could only encourage them to learn more about the democratic process and to use their right to vote.

Mr. Leslie said it was for the electorate to decide whether a candidate could adequately represent them and it was the Electoral Commission’s view that there might well be people younger than 21 who were capable of acting as effective elected representatives. No timetable has been set for the change, which will require an amendment to the Parliamentary Elections Act. Mr. Leslie said the government would seek to legislate when parliamentary time was available.

The decision to leave the voting age at 18 is also in line with the Electoral Commission’s recommendations in its report ‘Age of Electoral Majority’, which was published in April last year. Mr. Leslie said the government had noted the Commission’s view that there were arguments both for and against reducing it and it would continue to keep the issue under review.

The proposed change is seen as being part of the government’s efforts to encourage voter participation. These have included piloting internet and text messaging and introducing postal voting on demand, which have been popular among younger voters.

In Scotland, where the age of candidacy in local elections is a devolved matter, the Scottish Parliament has already reduced the age of candidacy to 18.