Should sixteen year olds vote? Please tell parliament “Yes”

I don’t often write on national topics on this blog. I don’t often write on anything as dull sounding as the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee. But this quiet committee, which is pretty much ignored by the media, is gradually compiling a portfolio of common sense reforms.

This week, the committee published a report on voter engagement. With the exception of the Scottish Referendum, turnout at elections has been falling for years. People are disillusioned, so much so that Russell Brand speaks for many of them, especially the young.

Cow-votingThe select committee report is best described as worthy but rather dull, so I’ll not attempt to summarise all of it. But there are two points I want to highlight.

Firstly, the committee says there must be a serious debate about extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year olds. I’m very much in favour of doing that.

People say that young people don’t have the experience to decide on how to vote. They’ll be too easily impressed by this and that. In my view, that’s what happens to all of us to some degree. We either vote for a party like it’s our religion, for a person because they are convincing, or we sway in the breeze of the media onslaught that goes with elections big and small. I can’t see that 16 and 17-year olds will make a worse job of electing an government than the rest of us.

Extending the franchise will mean that we engage them early in political dialogue. Who knows, some of them might go on to change politics for the better.

The second interesting thing about this report, is that committee wants to engage the public on next steps. In particular, it wants to know your views on:

online voting
registering up to and on the day of the election
votes for 16 and 17 year olds
compulsory voting with the option of “abstaining”.

You can make your views known here (though you will need to submit your comments in a file, a procedure that is so retro). This sort of consultation is too often dominated by lobby groups with agendas. That’s why it is important that the public’s views are heard, especially the views of young people.

Democracy is too important to let it slide into oblivion or to stand by while it is overcome by the anarchic and confused messages of Russell Brand and his ilk.