Want more young people to choose to stay in New Brunswick? Show them how much we value them. Lower the voting age to 16.
Lowering the voting age could be one of the key measures in combating our population concerns. The greatest way to draw people to a place is to make them feel connected to it. If a person is loyal to a place, they’ll champion it no matter where their travels take them, which only increases the awareness and interest in that community. Lowering our provincial voting age to 16 could be a game changer for New Brunswick, far beyond the simple statistic of 16,000 more voters.
This is the way in which we show our youth that we care about them, that we value them, and that we see the important role they play in our community. That sense of empowerment could change the way a generation sees this province – and not just within our borders. If New Brunswick becomes the first in Canada to take this stand, and talks about it in this way (please, don’t mention drivers’ licences), we could shine a national and even international spotlight on ourselves as a leader in respecting youth.
Strong communities catch the attention of people searching for a place to call home. Imagine the calibre of people who will consider moving here if our actions show the world that we care about our youth. We can be the province that is engaging our future leaders and ensuring all voices in our community are given equal opportunities.
Younger voters, even two years younger, are more likely to head to the polls. An article in last month’s The Economist, titled ‘Why the voting age should be lowered to 16,’ found that countries that shifted from 18 to 16 saw significant engagement. Austria moved the voting age to 16 in 2007; more voters under 18 turn up at the polls than in the 19- to 25-year-old range. Scotland’s 16- and 17-year-old were able to vote in the 2014 independence referendum; 75% showed up to vote, compared to 54% of 18- to 24-year-olds.
At age 16, a would-be voter is most likely living at home, in the same community in which he or she has lived for several years and plans to live for several more. At age 18, that same voter could be living on their own for the first time, away at college or university, and focused on a number of other pressing responsibilities and changes in life, and not sure where they’ll be living in a year’s time, let alone four. Who do you think is more likely to be engaged and informed on the issues?
Experts suggest a person’s voting habits – whether they regularly go to the polls or not – are formed by their first two elections. If those two elections begin after a person’s 18th birthday, they are likely in transition and less likely to vote. If we can’t convince young adults to head to the polls, we’ll end up with fewer and fewer adults voting. Another Economist article states: “[i]f future generations, discouraged by their fading influence, never adopt the voting habit, turnout will fall further, weakening the legitimacy of elected governments.”
We have the opportunity to change this path. We can step up and give our young adults the vote at 16. New Brunswickers can show the future leaders of this province why they should choose to live here. Because we value their opinions. Because we want them involved. Because they matter to us. And because their vote and their voice as important now as it will be in the future.
She Said appears Saturdays in the Times & Transcript.