When is the time ripe? Half a dozen reasons why Albanian’s Vote for 16! is important for every count

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

‘16-year-olds do not have enough life experience to make sound judgments when voting’. These are the words of Paul Nuttall, the former deputy leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party. Paul Nuttall is not the prime minister, nor is he some sort of political mogul for his voice to become the stance of the establishment, he retells in the most succinct manner possible the dominant position on the question of lowering the voting age worldwide: THEE SHALT NOT LOWER.

Indeed, this position is not unjustified. It is difficult to think of a time when the cohort of young adults could be easier to treat as unworthy of serious consideration. The snowflake generation, a dismissive shorthand for millennials and Gen Z, vividly conveys the criticism of this generation – fragile, weak, believing into hillbilly ideas that everyone is different, unique and valuable in own way, pretentious, irresponsible, happy to hold everyone against the highest standard, yet allergic to gentlest criticism, idle, hipster, and overall living in a bubble filled with elusive terms like ‘diversity’, ‘political correctness’, ‘cultural appropriation’ and whatever new concept they invent to get offended on each other in new creative ways. How can this motley crew be entrusted with a sacred right to vote?

However, as a wise man said, every side of the coin has another side. A good starting point to look at why the voting age in most of the countries is set at 18. In a nutshell, the current global voting age threshold has been established in the 1970s when young men across the globe were put in a situation where they could be drafted to the army, but could not cast their votes. Unfortunately for modern adolescents, they do not have the power argument ‘old enough to fight, old enough to vote’ up their sleeve. But is there something else they can turn to?

The Children’s Human Rights Centre of Albania (CRCA), an NGO promoting respect for the rights of children and youth as well their engagement in the life of the country, unambiguously certainly thinks that way. ‘Now is the time for adolescents!’, boldly states their petition to the Assembly of Albania, as CRCA spearheads the movement to empower the Albanian youth with voting rights. But is it worth the effort? What could be the reasons why CRCA and other NGOs would advocate for such a reform?

First and foremost, it is worth noting today it would make sense to look at the minimum employment age rather than at the age of draft. In most countries, including Albania, 16 is the age when a person can enter the job market, meaning he becomes an active member of society, who abides by the law and pays taxes. Denying them a right to vote creates a situation of ‘taxation without representation’, whereby one is denied the right to be heard despite making a contribution equal to that of people who can cast a vote.

Second, the argument that the 16-year-olds are not mature or wise enough to vote does not hold water. Not all adults are wise or mature enough either, so why give the right to vote to adults? This negates the democratic notion of equality, since the presence or lack of right to vote is tied to the abstract concept of maturity rather than concrete and qualifiable legal rights and obligations bestowed upon an individual.

Third, lowering the voting age can have a beneficial outcome for the culture of political participation. Democracy cannot exist without the active engagement of the people, so it is only too reasonable to include the adolescents in the ranks of voters to nurture the culture of active voters. There is evidence from studies conducted in the USA and some European countries that earlier grant of voting rights has a habit-forming effect, which creates a culture of more responsible and avid participants of the political process.

Fourth, empowering the youth with voting rights can have the effect of revitalizing the political life. There is numerous research pointing that younger generations are less involved within politics and that many feel disenchanted or alienated from the traditional political involvement. Often times it is the youngest voters who have the lowest turnout. Lowering the voting age can be a solution to this issue in dual ways – by broadening the number of people who have the right to cast their vote and by making politics more appealing for adolescents. Research conducted in several German states, where the age for voting in local elections has been lowered to 16, indicates that since that the age group 16-21 has been yielding a high turnout than the age group 21-30.

Fifth, the youth is notorious for being rebellious. They dismiss age-old conventions in an attempt to make what is a fair and just society from their point of view. From Summer of Love to Arab Spring, and from May 68 to modern Climate Activists, the youth has been the engine for change. In a transformative decade like ours, where the young people stand at the important crossroad of their lives, it is of vital importance to show the trust of political institutions into the younger generations. Why fight the youth when we can join them?

Sixth, it has to be remembered that the dichotomy between liberal democracy and majoritarianism lies in protecting the rights of minorities. Sometimes the popular opinion can suggest that the status quo shall be preserved, yet uncomfortable decisions have to be taken in order to preserve the fundamental values of society. Even if the support of lowering the voting age is not overwhelming, it should be born in mind that it would have taken decades and decades more that it did for countries worldwide to make such historical steps as ending segregation, the passage of anti-discrimination legislation, or legalization of same-sex marriage.

As shown above, advocating for lowering the voting age is not rocket science. The present threshold of 18 years is outdated, and it does fit well in modern reality. However, it is perhaps the past that it is largely the best advocate of lowering the voting age in the future. As history shows us, lowering voting age shall not be viewed as a single event fixing a societal problem, but rather as the next logical step in the youth empowerment. For instance, in the Netherlands, the voting age has been set at 25 in 1917, only to be gradually reduced to

23, 21, and, finally 18 years. The arguments in favor of or against giving a slightly younger portion of the population the right to vote gave not changed much, and, as we saw from the 20th-century experience, the world has not ended just after each time the voting age has been lowered. We need to remember that the time is always ripe to do right and that local initiatives such as Voto16! by the CRCA can have great significance in the rest of the world.

Author: Pavel Chernov

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