When we think about the minimum age for voting, the first question that comes to our mind is: How young is too young? The minimum ages vary in different contexts such as that for driving, marriage, joining the army, and so on. While there is an argument that 16 and 17-year-olds are too immature to vote, there is also a danger that they might not vote at all.
When we look at the trends in voting turnout, it is a bit distressing to note the numbers. This disenchantment of the young towards voting is a matter of concern as voting is a habit and it is necessary to ensure that this habit is inculcated as soon as possible. If left unattended, it could lead to ever lower participation rates in the decades to come, questioning the legitimacy of governments in a vicious spiral in which the poor voting turnout results in skepticism towards democracy, and vice versa.
The causes of disillusionment are many. Young adults look at voting as a privilege or choice rather than a duty. The politically active persons tend to campaign on single issues and matters of concern rather than for a particular party. Politicians also focus and woo the older voters rather than the young as they are more likely to vote.
There are some countries which have made voting compulsory thereby increasing turnout rates. But this is not a solution to the disillusionment. Governments have to focus on ways to rekindle the passion, rather than continue to ignore the absence of it. A good step would be to lower the voting age to 16. This would ensure that new voters get off to the best possible start.
This cannot be considered as an arbitrary change. The current age for voting, which is 18 coincides with finishing compulsory education and leaving home. Away from their parents, they have no established voters to follow as they have limited connection to their new communities. In this process, they remain away from the electoral roll, and the habit of voting is not established. If the voting age is 16 years, they can get into the habit of voting by accompanying their parents to polling stations.
However, just lowering the voting age alone will not help. Schools can contribute to better turnouts by helping the children register. Governments also need to put more effort at keeping electoral rolls current. Civics lessons can be improved. Schools can also have courses that promote open debate thereby giving the pupils a chance to vote in aspects of their school. This will boost political commitment later in life.
A lower voting age would strengthen the voice of the young and also signal that their opinions matter. They, as future citizens would be the ones who would be facing issues such as climate change, pensions, and healthcare, etc. in the future.