Are We Old Enough To Vote? We Should Be

There’s no question that I’m a political person. The first time I read Leah’s article on her opinions regarding voting, it was late. I was in my kitchen, fuzzy with sleep and halfway into a bottle of wine. I didn’t initially think too much of it, other than the fact that I knew I disagreed with it. In the morning, however, I couldn’t get it off of my mind—something about it bothered me, and still does. Never one to turn down a good old-fashioned debate, I started making a list of what I disagreed with. Before I knew it, I had an article. All pleasantries aside, let’s jump right in, shall we?

Why Eighteen? 

Suggesting that you get the opportunity to vote “simply because (you’re) eighteen” naively glosses over the reason you are entitled to a vote at all. It's no secret that brains take until 25 to fully mature. By this logic, why should anyone below 25 be voting at all? I’ve never heard anyone suggest that there’s a problem with people 20 or over voting, despite the fact that there is only a two year difference between them and an 18-year-old. Is this merely because the word ‘teen’ isn’t slapped to the end of the number? 

Though I wasn’t old enough to vote in the federal election of 2015 (blame September birthdays), I had many friends who were old enough to vote. In the weeks prior to Election Day, they were willing to discuss what parties they were voting for and the reasons behind those decisions—they had eagerly taken the initiative to do their research, recognizing the effects it could have on their futures as postsecondary students, as members of the queer community and as individuals struggling with the current care system for mental health. They wanted to ensure that this decision was one they could live with. Perhaps my friends are an exception; it is possible that more people experienced the awkwardness mentioned in Leah’s article during their first vote. But it would be an exaggeration to suggest that all or even most 18-year-olds walk into voting unprepared or unable to prepare. 

What enables 18 year-olds to vote in the first place—regardless of individual maturity? I think the answer is quite obvious: socially, you become an adult. Whether you like it or not, economic issues like taxes and student debt begin to affect you now. Furthermore, social issues start to have a larger impact once you face them as an individual, no longer under the protection of your parents and in an enabled state of childhood innocence and ignorance. You now have a stake in the game; it seems only fair that you get a say in how these issues are taken care of in political office. 

The voting age is not designed with the  “(assumption that) everyone eighteen and up is fit to vote”. Maturity develops differently between individuals due to a variety of factors. I’m sure we can all think of a couple of fourth-year students who still act like they’re just starting their undergraduate degrees. Are these people mature enough to vote? In contrast, youth activists such as Greta Thunberg prove that being underage doesn’t mean you can’t be informed, and thus make an informed vote. While a 5-year-old is (almost) always incapable, a 16-year-old could definitely have the capacity to be involved and make a responsible decision. 

The line has to be drawn somewhere. It logically makes sense that the minimum voting age would correlate with the age of majority; at this age, you are an equal adult citizen under the eyes of the law. As a result, you have earned the right to vote as an equal citizen in the society you live in. Your level of preparedness is on you. We are, after all, privileged enough to live in a free society. 

As For Restricting The Vote? Yikes 

Can we talk about this idea of restricting the vote based on factors such as “mental abilities” or education status? As mentioned a literal two sentences ago, we like to think that we live in a free society. Increasing the required criterion to vote will throw this prized value out the window. Restrictions such as these have been put in place in the past; recall at one time women couldn’t vote, nor could people of colour. We chose to move past these restrictions once we realized how innately wrong they were; after all, isn't it true that someone with a disability is considered equal to someone without one? They should get as much of a say in the running of their country as someone who isn’t impacted by that disability. Someone of lower education additionally should have equal rights to someone of a higher class status. 

By taking away the right to vote from these people, you are preventing their issues from being taken seriously and acted upon by those in a more privileged position. Think about it: if those with chronic illnesses couldn’t vote, the issues they face would become unimportant to those seeking to be elected. They wouldn’t help politicians to gain votes or power, so what would be the use of promising to address their needs? Perhaps I’m being cynical, but claiming human decency will ensure these issues are properly taken care of in office seems unrealistic to me when politicians fail to benefit from doing so. These individuals are already at a social and political disadvantage; further removing them from systems of power will only ostracize them from gaining their own rights. 

Furthermore, suppose we produce tests to judge ability to vote. Producing tests for this purpose would not, as you suggest, require little effort from the government. While it seems inexpensive to print off a bunch of tests, or add it to a webpage, these tests need to be constructed in the first place. A large amount of research would be required to determine what would make one eligible (in multiple fields), the test would have to be drafted, there would be costs for publicizing so people would be aware of the test’s existence and the government would have to fight challenges in court when people (rightfully) feel the need to oppose being forced to take such a test. None of these sound like pleasant ordeals, and feel out of place when discussing a country like Canada. 

A test like this would breed an atmosphere of alienation and discrimination towards those excluded. We could also ask how such a test would be constructed in a way that is not biased. Take for example the literacy tests put in place to disenfranchise black voters between 1890 and 1965. If we ask a random selection of people what they feel makes someone eligible, we could receive extremely unreliable results; furthermore, they would reinforce negative stereotypes of already alienated communities. If we claim experts are suitable, the question remains: what kind of experts are to be consulted and trusted? These highly educated, well-off individuals are no doubt as fallible as the rest of us. Trusting them to reshape the political future for the purposes of a so-called overall good (rooted in preserving privilege) is not only unrealistic, but incredibly dangerous; privilege and ability does not breed an informed opinion. One could not reasonably assume that my university-educated mother or fully-abled grandparents, who regularly vote based on their chosen party out of habit—yes, without even looking at electoral platforms—are any more informed than a pimply teenager, a disabled person or a low-income individual could be. 

To give you my honest opinion, if anyone’s ability to vote should be impacted, it should be those who stand to make an obscene profit off of electoral decisions. It is no secret that rich individuals fund parties that will ensure their businesses continue to profit. As seen with oil and gas companies, these sources of funding hold us back from making progress on issues—particularly those concerning the state of the environment. But I’ll save that rant for another article. 

Opt Outs  

As for the proposed idea of opting out, we already have an equivalent action: choosing not to show up to the polls in the first place. Putting a title on it to soothe your ego doesn't change the fact that you're choosing to not exercise your right to bring about change that matters. It doesn’t change the statistics of who did and didn’t vote; for the larger percentage of non-voters who are able to vote and choose not to, electing to opt out becomes a mere attempt at a justifiable excuse. Saying you aren't informed enough to vote isn't the same as saying you're ineligible to vote; you have chosen not to take the proper steps to become informed. To put it plainly, choosing not to vote can appear as an act of entitlement. It makes it seem as if you think the issues of the election do not affect you enough, or you simply don’t care. If you choose not to vote, you are choosing not to vote. Even worse is the idea that we should have an opt out for those who are “ineligible“. Not only would an application would be an impractical use of resources and time to carry out, but as outlined in the previous section, it runs the risk of being discriminatory. If we have an opt out at all, perhaps it should be reserved for those who are literally unable to vote—not due to choice, but due to extreme circumstances, such as being comatose.

Whether we like it or not, the statistics show our situation. With nearly 66%—an apparently high percentage—of Canadians choosing to vote, it is clear that the issue with our electoral turnout is not that unable or uninformed people are skewing the numbers—it's that not enough people are voting to accurately represent what our nation desires. 

But Where Do We Learn About Politics? 

I hate to say it (no I don't), but if you're relying on your mom and the school system to force feed you a political opinion, you likely do not care enough about the issues at hand. Maybe you don’t feel that they make much of a difference in your life—if that’s the case, enjoy your position in society. Those of us who have a stake in the game know what's at risk. We put in the work to find out what can be done in regards to issues that matter to us, whether it be a low dollar value or the failure of the Canadian government in establishing equal treatment for Indigenous individuals. Exposure to these social and economic issues is gained largely by experiencing life in the country you live in and through interactions with other individuals. You may not know what issues are faced by those with chronic illnesses, for example, but if you become friends with someone who has a chronic illness, chances are you will learn about the issues that arise between them and the government policies currently in place. That form of exposure should enable you to form an opinion, whether you base it on what you hear from your friend, or do additional research after having discussions on these issues with them. 

It’s no secret that multiple forms of media become a swarm during electoral periods. But by following the news frequently, as depressing as it becomes, you will become informed on what is going on in politics. For those of us who don’t have the energy to do so, there are people who dedicate time to informing last-minute voters. While you seem to dismiss bulleted lists that form in the process of electoral campaigning, they can be a useful tool. There are well-known, reputable sources of information you can read up to the minute you leave your home to vote. Maclean’s has a fantastic list that summarizes every campaign promise each of the four main parties make. Every one of these claims is linked back to a genuine source, whether it be a quote from a press release or something mentioned in a campaign ad—these links, which often trace back to news articles, explain the ideas in plain language so that voters are able to understand the position and make an informed decision. These points are separated by issue, so that each party’s proposed ideas can be easily compared. The list is so thorough that it even covers what issues parties choose not to make a statement on (and yes, I’m looking at you, Conservative Party of Canada). 

If the outcome of the election feels like it will have a significant impact on your life, you will pay attention. Most of the people I know in my age range are more politically involved than those I know of my parents’ generation. I can only assume this is because issues like global warming are a more pressing threat to our future well-being than theirs (let’s face it, they’ll be dead and rolling in their graves by then). Furthermore, we have collectively grown up with exposure to other walks of life, encountered different perspectives through media, and have been educated with a deep emphasis on empathy between our differing communities. This has led us to desire a more tolerant nation for those less privileged than we are. 

Conclusion 

Voting is a privilege we all have; to restrict it to older, well-off, abled people alone seems to be a step backwards. While I commend Leah for being so bold and upfront with her ideas, I hope she will consider what I have suggested here, and perhaps she will take care to become a little more informed for the elections to come.

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