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Giving youth the vote gives voice to the voiceless

Metro's Danielle Paradis argues we should stand behind the Edmonton Youth Council's push to lower the voting age.

Edmonton's youth council wants the province to lower the voting age for municipal and school board elections.

CP file

Edmonton's youth council wants the province to lower the voting age for municipal and school board elections.

My first experience voting was a mock election in my Spruce Grove high-school. The results were a landslide win for Liberal candidate Colleen Soetart, because she was the only politician to visit the school.

Soetart knew the power of name recognition. That may be a shallow voting method, but it isn’t limited to teenagers.

Edmonton Youth Council is on a mission to lower the voting age for municipal and school board elections, to let the people voting in those mock elections vote in real life and we should listen.

Political scientists Cindy Kam and Elizabeth Zechmeister tested the effects of name recognition on a candidate's success. Their research found that even brief exposure to a candidate’s name increased voting by 13%, even if the voter was not familiar with the candidate.

A common argument against underage voting is that if you can’t be tried as an adult in criminal court, why should you get the adult privilege of voting? We protect minors from crippling jail terms; should we not then delay their right to vote until they are more mature and informed?

Councillor Andrew Knack says these arguments are one of the reasons that the current discussion focuses on municipal and school board elections, “City bylaw doesn’t discriminate based on age. As a 16 year old you would receive the same traffic fine as a 60 year old,” said Knack.

Still, voting isn’t in the same category of impulsive behaviour that leads Canadian law to protect minors from being charged as adults. Voting is a “decision that comes after months of campaigns,” said Knack.

I recall a scene in The West Wing where a group of middle schoolers speak to White House communications director Toby Ziegler about their lobbying efforts to make a constitutional amendment to abolish the voting age.

Frustrated from being blown off by the adults, a young man says: “We’re children, and that in itself shouldn’t render us meaningless. But in this society we are meaningless because we’re powerless. We have no voice.”

Underage groups suffer marginalization through government policy because their best-interests can be ignored without the risk of losing a single vote. Arguments that cite a lack of responsibility, life experience, or even brain development don’t consider the effects of living in a world where you don’t get a voice.

Maturity and brain development were some of the same arguments used to deny women and aboriginals the vote. There was a condescending, paternal belief that these groups were infantile, and prone to coercion.

As anyone who has turned 18 knows, there isn’t a magical logic switch that clicks on when the clock rolls over. And if we were banking on brain development as a threshold, we’d have to raise the voting age considerably.

The arguments against underage voting are wrapped in an adults-know-best view of the world. They’re the same-old arguments used to deny suffrage for as long as democracy has existed.

Edmonton should be proud that our Youth Council is demonstrating leadership. Their desire to participate in their civil responsibilities and bring a voice to the voiceless is commendable.

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