Leave the voting to the big kids
I was driving my 17-year old daughter to Whitby on Monday afternoon, to the Durham District School Board offices. She’s a student senator at her school, and all the senators get together once a month and discuss ways they make their schools, and all schools better. Or so she says. As we were driving along, we were discussing her recent acceptance to university, and as I dropped her off and watched her bounce into the building alongside friends she had met up with, I marvelled at how grown-up and mature she seemed to be, and how thought about how life was just ticking along as it should.
I had some errands to run, so I changed my radio station back to CBC Radio 1 (teenager on board = no radio control). On the program “Here and Now,” host Gill Deacon was interviewing MPP Arthur Potts, who wants to submit a private members bill in the Ontario legislature that would ask the voting age be changed from 18 to 16.
I just about drove off Taunton Rd. “Are you nuts?” I screamed to the empty car. “My 17-year old can’t keep track of her own head, how on earth is she going to vote in an election?”
I settled myself down so that I could listen to all the reasoning behind MPP Potts’ decision to submit this bill. Listeners were also asked to call in or put their thoughts on Twitter, and there was no general consensus; opinions were wide and varied, but not one of them moved my stance. Sixteen-year olds being allowed to vote? Heaven help us all.
Being a Libra, I tend to weigh all sides of an argument or issue before I really settle on where I stand on the matter at hand. The chatter on “Here and Now” gave me lots to mull over. One caller said that 16-year olds being given an opportunity to vote was a great idea, provided the voter had already taken the Grade 10 Civics class that is mandatory curriculum in Ontario. Note that the Grade 10 Civics class is only worth half a credit. It’s not even a full semester long. I’m sure that the youngsters are going to fully absorb the complexities of our governments and the politics they practice in that amount of time. Adults in the room, raise your hand if you’ve got it all figured out. Look ma, no hands! I don’t care if they pass Grade 10 Civics with 100 per cent. No voting.
Another caller opined that young people don’t pay taxes, and if they don’t pay taxes, then they shouldn’t get to vote. I immediately agreed, because it helped my case, but quickly realized that it was a lame argument – there are many others who are 18 or older and don’t pay taxes, yet they get to vote.
One Tweet quipped that the voting age shouldn’t be lowered from 18 to 16, but the driving age should be raised from 16 to 18. I laughed. That person’s on to something.
Of course, MPP Potts expounded the reasons for why he thinks 16-year olds should be allowed to head to the polls.
“Today’s youth are so much more sophisticated, they know so much more.” (Connected doesn’t mean knowledgable.)
“It will help them create the habit of voting. I always took my daughters with me to vote, from when they were young, and now they are so involved in the process.” (Doing something once every two or four years does not a habit make.)
“Of course, it does increase voter turnout, but maybe that will inspire those of us who take voting for granted to get out there and exercise our right to vote too!” (Self-serving.)
I think he actually suggested at one point that he knew a nine-year old who was just so savvy, he could capably vote right now. (But he can’t spell “Conservative.”)
What exactly are the criteria for being able to vote “capably?” It can’t just be age. The fall-out from a recent election south of the border is proof of that. Seems like those-who-ought-not-vote came out in droves for that one. No, voters have to want to become informed about what they’re voting on. They need to want to pay attention and learn. They need to be taught, and they need to listen. That doesn’t mean they need to agree with everything – in fact, they shouldn’t agree with everything. It’s what they do agree with that makes them vote a particular way. A voter needs to care.
When I picked my daughter up, we talked about what I’d been listening to on the radio.
“Vote when we’re 16?” she asked. “That’s just stupid. I didn’t care about voting when I was 16. Not many people I know are into that stuff. It’s all we can do to get school sorted out.”
She turns 18 in April, and gets to participate in not one but two elections this year. She’s pretty excited about it, but I don’t think she fully realizes the implications of it. Good thing she’s got a news junkie for a mother – she’ll get filled in on what’s going on. Problem with that is, she’ll vote like me, and not from her own mind.
One person joked “A 16-year old voting is like a five-year old using a stove. A bad idea.”
Let’s hope we don’t get burned.