Monday, January 23, 2017

Votes at 16 for upcoming Local Council Elections

I've got a short piece in the local Newspaper today, on the issue of 'Votes at 16' - for those interested, I'll reproduce the main text below ...

Votes at 16 good for local democracy

On Thursday 4th May this year, 16 and 17 year-olds will be able to vote in Local Council elections for the first time here in Scotland. Personally, I very warmly welcome this extension of the electoral franchise.

Evidence from the 2014 referendum, here in Scotland, shows that 16 and 17-year-olds had a higher turnout rate (75%), than those aged 18 to 24, and even those aged 25 to 34. And academics have also demonstrated that voting is habitual; one of the best predictors of non-voting is not having voted in the first election for which you were of age. 

And in a time of declining turnout, it’s right that politicians from across the political spectrum should get behind measures to boost the rate of first-time and habitual voting, encouraging more citizens to elect their representatives and to hold politicians to account.

So yes, I do welcome the fact that in June 2015, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed a law to let 16 and 17 year-olds vote in all future Local Elections. No Political Party argued against it, and we should all be doing everything we can, between now and May, to promote as high a participation rate as possible.

This is a positive challenge for us all to embrace – as individuals, as Political Parties, for schools – to equip our younger citizens with the tools and the knowhow to get informed and to get involved.

And Scotland is by no means alone, or the first, to extend the franchise in this way. 16 and 17 year-olds can already vote in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey; while Wales is considering similar measures to those of Scotland. In fact, those elections where 16 and 17 year-olds are not yet allowed to vote (most notably Westminster general elections) are looking increasingly isolated.

But like all potential voters, 16 and 17 year-olds do need to be on the Electoral Register, and I would strongly encourage those who will be eligible to vote to check that they are duly registered. It’s very easy to do – it literally takes only a few minutes by visiting: ; and you have until Monday 17th April to register, which will then enable you to vote in the Council Elections on Thursday 4th May 2017.

Votes at 16 – combined with balanced high-quality citizenship education – will better nurture tomorrow’s voters, activists and politicians, and contribute greatly to building a better local democracy.

Councillor Andrew Burns
Leader, City of Edinburgh Council

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