Friday, 27 September 2013

Votes @ 16: If these are our experts...

... then boy are we screwed!

This article featuring a few 'democratic experts' lays out some responses to the positive words Ed Miliband has had towards the Votes @ 16 campaign. It makes for pretty sad reading from some of these talking heads, and I just wanted to pull out a few quotes here and respond to them.

First, young people are not generally passionate about their right to vote. Less than half of 18-24 year olds voted at the last three general elections. These figures are hardly surprising given that around 4 in 10 are not even registered.

So will giving people the vote at 16 encourage or discourage higher registration to vote, given that such registration would/could take place as part of the educational system?

Second, there is little evidence of widespread public support for votes at 16.

This guy has a weird concept of democracy, seemingly believing everything has to be about majorities rather than about actions being "right" or "justifiable". If the public supported, widely, the execution of all blue eyes people, would this expert be happy with that to occur?

Third, Britain is not out of line with international norms. The qualifying age to vote is 18 in all but a few democracies.

*has flashbacks to the AV referendum campaigns, where somehow what the rest of the world does should dictate what we do*

Britain was once a world leader, and yet our democratic "experts" seem to advocate waiting until enough of the rest of the world has done something before we join the party? Again... if the rest of the world removed the right for women to vote, would this expert suggest it is reasonable to consider this for the UK?

If we make the highly questionable assumptions that a clear majority of 16-17 year olds would register to vote, cast a ballot and support a single political party, the numbers involved would still be too small to make a difference anywhere other than in the most marginal constituencies.

This is a 'democratic' 'expert' saying "look, guys, your vote isn't going to matter anyway...why bother any attempt to improve enfranchisement"?

It’s difficult to understand politicians who think that 16 year olds are not to be trusted with fireworks but the vote is just fine.

Different guy this time, using the opposite argument of "Why give people the vote, it won't make a difference" above, instead making an analogy that suggests the single vote from one 16 year old will be as catastrophic as misuse of a firework! As one of the other experts says above...

while [15/16yos] have adultlike abilities to think and reach rational judgments, adolescents’ capacities are more susceptible to being confounded by the real-world contexts in which they make decisions. When they must either make decisions quickly or under pressure, or when they are highly emotional or stressed, adolescents’ performance suffers. Elections, however, are a decision-making domain in which adolescents’ cognitive-processing abilities would almost certainly remain uncompromised. Elections unfold over a period of time, giving voters the opportunity to deliberate and evaluate options without undue pressure. Many sources of information are readily available, which serve as scaffolding or heuristics to help voters evaluate their choices. And voting itself is done anonymously and in private, which diminishes the concern that adolescents’ choices will be unduly pressured or influenced by their peers or others.

So unlike the situation of setting off a firework, something that is dealt with in a short space of time, with peers in an election doesn't face those same risks. Mainly through lack of gunpowder.

and finally...

Whatever else it is, it’s not popular, even amongst 16 and 17 year olds.

What we are saying here, as with most of the statements above, is that what people want only matters if they're in a majority; we're saying democracy must revolve around the many and not the few. I don't want to go all Godwin on y'all, but this is the kind of thinking that lets people go "Well, tbh, I think gassing Jews is something the state can legitimately progress with"

What is my view?

If people want to vote, let them. As many an 'expert' has said above, it's not like it's going to make a massive difference to the country. What it might do is make a difference to that 20% or so of young people that wish they could have had their say at 16 instead of at 23 for the first time. While the assault on the under 25's continues we may well have to ask ourselves if the lack of represented voices in that age bracket due to the entry point of joining the franchise goes some way to explain how we can so easily let businesses and governments exploit the young.

It's not ridiculous to trust young people to vote because it is not ridiculous to trust daily mail readers to vote, or those that may be suffering from dementia to vote, or those that are racist to vote. We have millions upon millions of people that make their decisions of who to vote for on such small criteria, sometimes as small as "My family has always voted X" or, conversely "My family would never vote for X".

It seems strange to say that what happens at 18 is we accept people as adults, and therefore will ignore their lack of understanding, their lack of care and lack of research in to the choices they're making, while at less than 18 we will scrutinise them for such traits and penalise even those that could show that they can think critically and maturely about subjects such as who to vote for at an election.

One of these people in the article says:

A substantial change in the culture of politics is required before lowering the voting age is considered.

...and he's right to a degree, except that the extension of votes to 16 doesn't threaten such a culture change. If anything it provides an opportunity, directly and accessibly through our education systems to tell students directly on an election year know is a process that people in a civilised society can choose to go through, and this is how to think critically about the choices you make.

All of these excuses about public opinion, about youth desire to vote, about the practices of other countries... all smoke and mirrors, pathetic and weak arguments that fail to answer the main question about votes @ 16...

"What is lost, as a nation, if we give 16 year olds the vote?"

Answers on a postcard.