GE2019: Lower the Voting Age to 17 Years

As Johnson and Corbyn clash over Brexit, students who tuned in to the ITV leaders’ debate are left wondering who to trust and believe, but they still can’t vote, writes Zoë Ingram, a student at Havant and South Downs College.

Mr Johnson pledged to ‘end this national misery’ and claimed Labour offer ‘division and deadlock’, while Mr Corbyn declared he would ‘get Brexit sorted by giving you, the people, the final say.’

It concerns me as a 17 year old who has a decent understanding of today’s political climate that although I am encouraged to register to vote, I am prevented from having a say in the biggest UK election for 5 years.

‘Your registration has gone through, no problem, but you are on a holding register until you turn 18.’

After emailing the electoral services for my local constituency, I was disheartened to be told I would be denied a voice because I am one month away from being classed as an adult UK citizen.

I accept that a line has to be drawn somewhere in terms of determining adulthood however even though I am a year under the voting age, I am still pressured by expectations from all corners to apply for a place at university, acquire a driver’s licence and look for a decent paying job in order to avoid the costly student loans and hefty tuition fees. Some young people less fortunate than I are the primary caregiver for an ailing family member, or are needed to provide some form of financial support for the household, yet don’t get their views taken seriously by the political system.

In November 2019 The Independent reported that ‘record numbers of young people are applying to vote, with just 13 days remaining for individuals to register to vote in the first December election for almost a century.’ Over 65% of applications were from people aged 34 and under, including the 17 – 18 age bracket. This clearly demonstrates the spike in political interest that is beginning to drive more young people to be heard. It seems very condescending and contradictory to deny us the right to vote on our future if so much responsibility is weighted on us to be an adult as soon as possible.

Lowering the voting age to 17 would be ideal for students and young people, as the first year of college in the UK is a pivotal turning point in their lives. The development of maturity levels for young people is more apparent than people realise after we leave secondary school, with politics and university often the main topics of conversation in the classrooms. I have found that when talking to students on various courses, they research and keep an eye on politics as part of their projects or for their own personal interest. Surprisingly, some are more informed than some registered adult voters.

Of course I am not claiming young people know better than the adult generation. However, they do have a view on politics and there is no wrong way to vote in a democracy – even if some feel young people would be misguided by some political parties if given the vote.

All adults – no matter how fair or unfair their view may seem – are allowed to have their say.

So why can’t we?

‘You will be entitled to vote in all elections on or after 11th January 2020.’

It amazes me that the current voting laws mean one birthday suddenly alters your maturity and respect levels – that one day is the difference between a child who doesn’t know any better to an adult who is entitled to a say in their own lives.

I have heard critics argue that if we allow 17 year olds the right to speak up for their future, we may just as well give way to those over 12 years. This seems to me the most ridiculous argument. There is a clear division in political knowledge between secondary schools and colleges: college students are treated as young adults in control of their own education (excuse the irony), whereas secondary schools build the foundations for further education with mandatory education requirements.

People underestimate the age bracket of 17 year olds due to the bad reputation of small groups. However, there are adults able to vote who also have a bad reputation for decision-making, so I ask this:

What is the government’s real argument about lowering the voting age? Or are they just scared about how the independent generation would vote if given their voice?


Further information

The Electoral Reform Society supports extending the right to vote to both 17 and 16 year olds and their website reports: ‘The SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Greens all support votes at 16.’ Find out about the campaign to lower the voting age.

Should the UK lower the voting age to 16?A Democratic Audit collection is a (2014) collection of essays exploring both sides of this debate, including essays from MPs.

If you missed the ITV leaders debate, you can watch it below via YouTube and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.