Headlines: January 7th, 2009

Reducing the voting age for local elections may not help to tackle the problem of young people’s disengagement from politics, according to a youth charity. The Changemakers Foundation has claimed lowering the age limit would have little impact on voter turnout.

The charity was responding to the Youth Citizenship Commission’s consultation on the voting age. The Commission is seeking views on extending eligibility to 16 year olds as part of its wider work to find ways to encourage more young people to be involved in politics.

Changemakers said amending the age limit would make little difference to turnout or to the civic engagement of young people. Local election turnout is traditionally low, rarely rising above 33 per cent, and is even lower among younger voters. Adam Nichols, the charity’s chief executive officer, said, “Simply allowing 16 year olds to vote will not change this,” and he added, “While it may be appropriate to lower the voting age in the long run, I do not believe that this should be the focus of policy.”

Responding to the Commission the organisation said the first step towards getting more young people involved in and engaged with their local communities should be to focus on giving them a stake in the community. Mr. Nichols said giving young people opportunities to lead community change and to participate in policy and decision making allowed them to see how the decisions they made at a local level could have some influence. “This is likely to have a more powerful effect on their civic engagement than simply giving them the right to vote in local elections,” he said.