Voter turnout is at an all-time low. Citizens are staying away from the ballot boxes on voting day, seemingly uninterested in who will represent their interests at the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government.
In the context of the upcoming municipal election in the City of Toronto, an innovative idea designed to halt and even reverse this trend of decreasing voter turnout is that the voting age should be lowered to 17, our reasons for this are practical.
With the elimination of Grade 13, also known as OAC, from the Ontario high school curriculum, depending on their birthdate, students can graduate from high school at the age of 17; this means they are entering the workforce or post-secondary environment without being able to vote.
The act of voting is the primary way which people in Canada affect policy, so being denied the vote while political decisions shape their futures, is unfair.
In Austria, where the voting age has been lowered, an Austrian National Election Study found that younger voters tend to continue to vote as they grew older. The study also found that beyond the question of the level of turnout among voters under 18, the political interest of citizens younger than 18 increased after the voting age was lowered, as did their knowledge, trust and satisfaction with democracy.
These findings from Austria reinforce a paper published by Yosef Bhatti and Kasper M. Hansen in the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties which theorized that because the “social act of voting has strong habitudinal properties, failure to mobilize youth can therefore possibly have long-term consequences for political participation.”
In Canada, the idea of facilitating greater youth involvement is not a new idea. As far back as 2005, then-Ontario Liberal MP Mark Holland told the Canadian Parliament that the “the disengagement of our youth from our political process” was a “serious problem for our country.”
He attempted to resolve this problem by introducing Bill C-261 which would have lowered the voting age for federal elections in Canada to 16 while keeping the age for candidates at 18. Unfortunately for the members of the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberals and the NDP which supported this Bill—it did not pass.
We are not so ambitious as to voice an opinion on the federal voting age, but we do think that the municipal voting age should be lowered to 17—if for no other reason than that it will make politicians address the issues that affect this age group.