As long-time readers will know, I'm a youth-rights advocate. As longer-time readers will know, I've been studying politics since I was fourteen years old, which is also about the time that I started to practice online debating (much more fun than the classroom charades they made us do).
I'm ambivalent on this issue, though I do support it entirely; in some ways the enfranchisement of younger people is clearly an important thing to fight for, yet sometimes I feel there are more pressing matters that would only be partially solved by giving youths a vote. Giving the vote to 17 or 16 year olds would have an immediate and powerful impact on the political landscape, and no I don't mean that "those stoopid teens" would start voting for Hulk Hogan or whoever the crusty bigots think is still relevant.
Teenagers here tend to be either very apathetic, like most adults, or very passionate and informed. They're often studying these issues in schools, and they often have their own opinions and suggestions, influenced by the treatment they receive and the experiences they endure as students or youths trying to break into the workforce.
At the moment, the youngest target for politicians is around about mid-twenties. If late-teens were able to vote, then policy makers would need to consider students at school, re-think ageist policies and worry about having to appeal to critical thinking youths who aren't bound up in stagnant thinking or disinterested cynicism (or outmoded beliefs and bigotry). It means they'd need to at least rethink part of their strategy and afford some respect and consideration to a demographic they're used to treating as nothing more than ammunition for their arsenal of rhetoric.
As it stands, the common belief is that youths are not interested - and this is certainly true in many cases, but I doubt it's much more so than with adults. The typical image of a teenager, clad in ludicrous "fashionable" clothes and repeating "dude" more often than breathing while dismissing any discussion of politics or importance, is just too firmly ingrained in people's heads. Family movies from the 80s and 90s would show clever preteens outwitting stupid, stereotypical teenagers (a power trip fantasy for younger viewers, I suppose, but most movies for teens were/are outright insulting to their intended audience too), so people ironically have more respect for the sharp wit of a nine-year-old than the intellect of a teenager.
A simple visit to any teen-oriented forum, or a few words with the quiet majority of teenagers will tell you how wrong this image is, very quickly. A lot of them are hard working, already affected by politics and iniquity within the workforce or school, or with regards to finance. Do they have a vested interest in politics? I think so.
Let me ask my friend who had to work to support his mother at age 16. He had to work two jobs, and quit school (luckily, this was before the misguided morons made it near impossible to leave school before 18 here) with excessive hours, in order to help. He was making less than half of what I do right now, and I make minimum "adult" wage on few hours.
Or consider the plight of a seventeen year old wishing to drive right now. If his parents are extremely supportive it is possible; but if, as many do, refuse to aid their child or aren't able to: how is he to afford the ~$500 or more for lessons and the tests? He makes dirt in his job, half of the wage his less-competent adult co-worker makes, which he earns while also attending the twelfth grade, which is harder than anything most adults deal with, I know for a fact. How is he to achieve the "25 hours" of supervised driving when nobody in the house is willing, able or qualified to supervise? Over six months! Gee, maybe we should have a vote on this - without cutting the affected youths out and only letting disconnected gits who believe that if you "give a teenager a car, he'll immediately try to ramp it off something" have a say. Let's talk about this, because the current system completely shuts out certain people - does the government even know this? Maybe they should ask the people to whom they're dictating.
It goes without saying that perennial favorites here, such as issues regarding unions, apprenticeships, military activity, taxes, public amenities, censorship, GLBT equality and the judiciary all very much affect young people and they're likely to have opinions; opinions well-formed, within the framework of an educational environment, not as a byproduct of jaded cynicism and newspaper propaganda.
There is no downside - civics education and involvement for youths will shoot up. The apathy will at least partially erode, and teenagers will find themselves more educated and passionate about issues they now can affect. They'll understand how and why these issues affect them, too. Teenagers are also not as crazily left-wing as people think; they're actually quite conservative nowadays. The hippy-youth thing is a left over stereotype from the 60s.
At worst, nothing will improve - that's the ultimate be-all-and-end-all to this. Boom, debate over. If we allow 16 year olds the vote, a notion that is well supported by research in America, Austria and the UK thus far (so it's not some extremist, crazy idea), at worst they will vote as irresponsibly as their parents. Donkey and informal voting is not a problem, and most adults blindly vote for the same party year after year anyway. The kids are more likely to make an informed, passionate vote, and even if they don't, we only elect representatives from major parties, the youth of the nation can hardly rise up and elect a bad choice by themselves, or directly vote for specific policies.
The fact there's resistance to this idea, given the research for it, shows there is a definite fear of letting young people have a say. An irrational, possibly bigoted fear.
Speaking of having a say. One comment in an online newspaper was some idiot predictably blithering "they're just KIDS! They shouldn't have this responsibility!" - nice going, you moron. Trying to mask your distaste for the idea as sympathy for the disenfranchised, lovely. They are not "just kids"; they are not disconnected from politics or the adult world, in fact they've been a part of it for a long time. How about you speak for yourself? Which is exactly what we're talking about here? Why are you speaking for them? Tell me how being able to vote alongside their parents and friends is going to be a burden on an under-represented age group. Isn't this exactly the point: that it's time for everyone to hear from them?
I'd be less annoyed by this vacuous, deceptive comment if it wasn't so predictable. It's exactly the sort of thing I expect to see. Tell me, if you ask a seventeen-year-old politics student if he thinks he's "just a kid" and shouldn't have a vote because he shouldn't need to worry his pretty little head about going to a school and ticking a few boxes every now and then, how do you think he'll reply?
Well, I like to imagine he'd ask your stupid arse if you know the difference between a bylaw and a parliamentary act, what "bicameral" means, whether the Senate can introduce fiscal bills, if we have a bill of rights, who the shadow treasurer is or what a Gerrymander is before walking off to go vote.
I've already spoken about this issue in general. There are previous journals containing sources and other talking points. I don't have time to go through looking for them, but there were several pertinent links.
I was obviously a very opinionated youth. Most kids are (which is sort of the point), it's part of beginning to engage with the adult world. You discover the issues, learn the facts, and eagerly leap into the fray. This is the perfect time to give them a vote. But, in the last ten years, as I am now an adult... what's changed? With the benefit of ten extra years of experience and university education, how much has my political stance changed?
Very little. I'd vote the same way today as I would have ten years ago. Because I didn't just pull my beliefs out of a hat, they were formed with research and a dogged insistence on understanding both sides of any issue. But if I wasn't that kind of kid, and I didn't care for this stuff but I had the ability to vote?
I'd go into the voting booth, write "Doesn't matter what I tick, I'm electing a cunt anyway" and stuff it in the slot - and you know what? In a nation with compulsory voting, that hurts nobody. Let them do that, let the savvy ones vote their conscience.
You know, just as we do with the "responsible adults."
NOTE: mental illness, advanced age, retardation, belief in stupid conspiracy theories and so on do not disqualify you from voting. These are far greater handicaps than being sixteen.