Lower the voting age? YES!

The following opinion piece is in response to Missing the Point, an editorial by the Maple Ridge News

Some critics are scoffing – loudly – at the suggestion to lower B.C.’s voting age to 16.

Might I suggest that these folks haven’t talked with any live, actual 16-year-olds lately?

As editor of the Cloverdale Reporter for the past year and a bit, it’s been my sincere privilege to have met and interviewed local teens.

Some – ok, quite a few – harbour dreams of becoming pop stars, others are already star athletes on school or regional teams. Plenty seem to be in a constant state of do-gooder-ism – incessantly fundraising on behalf of local, national and international aid projects.

And, god love ’em, some of these young whippersnappers actually get a kick out of reading, and connecting with, their local newspaper – whether it’s by email, text message, or via YouTube and Facebook accounts, to let us know what’s going on in their lives. (Just like their parents, and grandparents.)

Kids today are smart, informed, compassionate, and demonstrate a healthy curiosity about the world, whether it’s the lack of universal access to free elementary education in Kenya or the fact that there are some double-income families right here in Cloverdale who don’t earn enough to make ends meet each month – forcing them to turn to the food bank or the Christmas Hamper Program.

Sure, I’m generalizing here. Some Grade 10 students do need supervision to get their homework done and aren’t allowed to drive by themselves – yet. However, the same can be said of any number of people over the current voting age.

I categorically reject the notion that people who are 16 are somehow easier to manipulate than the rest of us.

Ever tried to guilt a teenager into cleaning her room or drag the vacuum cleaner around for a change? Do we really believe some teenage wastrel is going to summon the energy to shuffle over to the polling stations on election day just so she can spoil her precious ballot or cast an uninformed, manipulated vote for that super “cool” Mike de Jong guy?

Not. Going. To. Happen.

Some 16-year-olds will take the responsibility – their duty – to vote seriously, and will make sure to get out and exercise it on election day.

As for the suggestion that Liberal leader hopefuls de Jong and George Abbott are somehow grasping for easy votes or are pandering to a fickle demographic in floating the idea of lowering the voting age, well, maybe. And what of it? That doesn’t make it a bad idea.

Something does need to be done about B.C.’s shamefully low voter turnouts.

We’re well past the point of feigning mild concern. In just eight years, B.C.’s voter turnout has plummeted from 72 per cent in 2001 to slightly over 50 per cent in May 2009.

Drastic measures are needed. Fixed election dates that coincide with NHL playoff season aren’t the way to do it.

My suggestions include offering incentives (the next voter in line wins a free car!) and on-line voting – an idea whose time has well and truly come, and if you can’t see the merits in that, well, you’re just kidding yourself.

– Jennifer Lang, Cloverdale Reporter

PS. Why worry about a shift to supposedly youth-oriented issues like tuition fees and the minimum wage?

Again, with respect, neither of those issues are of interest only to teenagers.

Anyone who’s been faced with a layoff because their sawmill shut down, their newspaper was put out of business, or because their political party was decimated on election day would understand those issues have broad voter appeal.

When you’re an out-of-work adult, school tuition is called “retraining” and minimum wage is called “paying the bills”.

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