Researcher backs up P.E.I. student's opinion on teen voting

·3 min read

A Bluefield High School student is getting behind a Green Party bill in the P.E.I. Legislature to lower the provincial voting age to 16.

MLA Karla Bernard introduced the private member's bill, and 17-year-old Oliver Batchilder is trying to raise support for it.

"All it can do, truly, is strengthen democracy. One of the easiest ways to strengthen democracy is increase involvement," Batchilder told Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.

"The easiest way to increase involvement is to simply expand who is eligible to be part of the electorate."

This is not the first time lowering the voting age has been discussed in the legislature.

In 2017, Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker introduced a similar bill, but it did not gain the necessary support, with most of the Progressive Conservative and Liberal MLAs voting against it.

"I've never really been able to understand why some of the bigger parties on the Island haven't been able to commit to lowering the voting age," Batchilder said.

"It doesn't really make too much sense to me."

The arguments

Batchilder said he hears two main arguments against lowering the voting age — youth are apathetic and youth are immature — and he doesn't believe either one of them holds water.

Regarding immaturity, Batchilder said that problem will take care of itself. Teenagers who don't take the vote seriously will mostly just not bother voting, he said, and so they won't disrupt elections.

Submitted by Oliver Batchilder
Submitted by Oliver Batchilder

As for apathy, he argues youth are probably more engaged in their communities than older people.

"They're part of sports teams, they volunteer, they're part of clubs like cadets and 4-H," he said.

Ilona Dougherty, managing director of the Youth & Innovation Project at the University of Waterloo, said the research backs up Batchilder's opinions on both voter engagement and youth taking voting seriously.

"The brain research is very clear that by 15 years old young people have the full intellectual capacity of adults," said Dougherty.

Developing a habit

The voting age has already been lowered in Scotland and Austria, she said, and the results are positive.

"The research is really compelling that 16-year-olds, when they vote, really take it seriously," she said.

Submitted by Ilona Dougherty
Submitted by Ilona Dougherty

Sixteen-year-olds are well placed to understand the importance of voting, she said, because that's the age they're learning about it in schools. For that same reason, she said, it's a good time to get people started on voting, and hopefully forming a lifelong habit of political engagement.

One unspoken reason parties may be against lowering the voting age, said Batchilder, is they are concerned about changing the status quo, because younger people tend to lean left.

But Dougherty said when you take a broader view you find that young people can tend toward the right or left, depending on time and place.

If the PCs and Liberals want to win over youth, Batchilder said, giving them the vote would be a great way of letting them know they are interested in hearing what youth have to say.

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