Academics to assess case for votes at 16

By Kate Plummer

| 21 December 2017

Fresh research into whether the voting age should be lowered to 16 will be conducted, it has been announced.

Calls for the voting age to be lowered to 16 have been growing in recent years. Picture: British Youth Council

The decision to conduct new research on the issue - which will be undertaken by two academics from the University of Huddersfield and University of Liverpool - comes amid growing calls for 16- and 17-year-olds to be given the vote.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have said they would lower the voting age, although Prime Minister Theresa May has so far ruled out changing the law

The research is being paid for with a £120,000 grant from the Leverhulme Trust.

The two academics conducting the research - Dr Andrew Mycock of the University of Huddersfield and Professor Jonathan Tonge of the University of Liverpool - were both previously part of the Youth Citizenship Commission in 2008, which recommended that the voting age should remain at 18.

Their new research project will analyse historical and contemporary debates about voting age reform, youth democratic participation, and rights and responsibilities of youth and adult citizenship.

Mycock said a "proper, evidence-based, analysis" of the issue is necessary to decide what to do one way or the other.

He said that during a recent House of Commons debate on the issue, supporters and opponents of change "often drew on narrow, repetitive and speculative arguments to promote their case".

The new research compares arguments used when the UK lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1969 to those now being made. 

It will also consider the international context to the debate by analysing what has happened in countries where the voting age has been lowered to 16.

Mycock said: "Voting age reform needs to be considered in the broader context of when a society believes that children - as citizens under the age of 18 are defined by the United Nations - should acquire rights and responsibilities.

"Whether a 16-year-old should be prohibited from serving on a jury, standing as a candidate in an election, driving or buying an alcoholic drink, yet allowed to vote, needs serious consideration."

In 2014, 16- and 17-year-olds in Scotland were allowed to vote in the independence referendum. And since 2015, they have been able to vote in local and Scottish elections.

However, similar proposals have not been implemented in England. In November, MPs debated a bill introduced by Labour to reduce the voting age to 16, but it ran out of debating time before it could be put to a vote.

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