2023 Policy Initiative - Expanding the Right to Vote

Right to vote for 16 and 17 year olds - The Greens have a plan to empower young people to participate in our democracy, to make sure everyone’s voice is being heard.

The right to vote is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy, and we believe that all citizens, regardless of age, should have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Young people are already demonstrating their political awareness and engagement in their day to day lives.

Young people in NSW already work and pay taxes. We accept they’re old enough to open a bank account, learn to drive, have sex — they can even be criminally charged as an adult and go to prison. It’s time they were empowered to exercise their voice in our democracy too.

The major parties will bang on about how they value young people - they are happy to take membership dues from under 18s to join their political party as youth members. But without the right to vote, young people’s opinions, prerogatives and interests are disregarded - with political parties focused only on what young people will grow up to become and how they will vote as an adult. What gets overlooked is that young people have something important to say right now — they offer society a fresh vision and new ideas, they push us to do things in a better way.

The Greens will change the minimum voting age to 16, because we know when we give 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote, we are not only recognising that young people have something valuable to say, we are also providing an incentive for political parties to listen and engage with their ideas.

THE GREENS WILL: 

  • Change the Electoral Act 2017 to entitle persons over the age of 16 years old to vote in elections in New South Wales. This means 16 and 17 year olds would be able to vote in the 2024 local government and 2027 state elections
  • Ensure that there is no penalty for these newly empowered young people for not voting if they are unwilling, unable or unaware of the option to exercise this right
  • Provide for persons over the age of 14 years old to enrol to vote in preparation
  • Increase funding to the NSW Electoral Commission so it can hire sufficient full time staff to engage with young people and other cohorts between elections to ensure everyone understands their rights and how to participate in elections

GIVING 16 & 17 YEAR-OLDS THE RIGHT TO VOTE

We will make a legislatively simple but socially profound amendment to the Electoral Act 2017 – to entitle 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in NSW elections.

The Greens’ plan would permit, but not oblige, 16 and 17 year olds to vote in NSW state and local government elections, meaning that there would be no penalty for these newly empowered young people for not voting if they were unwilling, unable or unaware of the option to exercise this democratic right.

The plan will also entitle persons over the age of 14 years old to enrol to vote in preparation.

To support the engagement of young people in the political process, the Greens would increase funding to the NSW Electoral Commission so it can hire sufficient full time staff to engage with young people between elections, ensuring young people understand their rights and how to participate in elections.

In 2022, the Greens introduced a Bill to expand the right to vote in NSW to 16 and 17 year olds. The legislation is ready to be voted on and could become law this year.

IMPROVING OUR DEMOCRACY 

The right to vote is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy. The Greens believe that all citizens, regardless of age, should have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. 

Many countries around the world have already expanded the right to vote to 16 and 17 year olds, including Austria, Brazil, Scotland and Slovenia. These countries have seen numerous benefits from this policy change, including:

  • Higher voter turnout. Studies have shown that when the voting age is lowered, youth voter turnout tends to increase. This is because young people are more likely to feel engaged and invested in the political process when they have a direct stake in the outcome.
  • Increased political awareness. Expanding the right to vote helps to foster a sense of political awareness and civic responsibility among young people. This can lead to a more informed and active electorate, which is essential for the health of any democracy.
  • More representative decision-making. Expanding the right to vote ensures that the views and needs of young people are taken into account when decisions are made. This helps to create a more representative and fair democracy, where all voices are heard.

RECOGNISING THE VALUE OF YOUNG PEOPLE 

Young people have valuable contributions to make to our democracy it’s time their voices were heard.

Common arguments against a change to the voting age often centre on the idea that young people are not mature enough or well-informed enough to make informed decisions at the ballot box. However, research has shown that young people are just as capable of making informed decisions as adults. In fact, many young people are already politically active and engaged in their communities, and they are often well-informed about the issues that matter to them.

One argument against lowering the voting age is that young people lack the maturity and life experience necessary to make informed decisions at the ballot box. However, this argument is not supported by psychological research.

According to research on hot and cold cognition, young people are just as capable of making rational and logical decisions as adults. Hot cognition refers to the emotional and intuitive aspects of decision-making, while cold cognition refers to more logical and analytical thinking. Research has shown that young people are just as capable of cold cognition as adults, and their hot cognition skills are also developing and improving over time.

Additionally, research on moral development suggests that young people are capable of making moral decisions that are just as complex and nuanced as those made by adults. Many young people are already actively engaged in their communities and are concerned with social justice and fairness, indicating that they are capable of thinking deeply about moral issues.

Overall, the evidence suggests that young people are just as capable of making informed decisions as adults, and their decision-making skills will continue to improve and develop as they grow and gain life experience. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that lowering the voting age would lead to less informed or mature decision-making at the ballot box.

Lowering the voting age to 16 will help to increase voter turnout, foster political awareness among young people, and ensure that all voices are heard in the democratic process. It’s vital for building a stronger, more representative democracy for all.

References:

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