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Widening the franchise


This is an article for the South Wales Evening Post

The decision by the Welsh Government to give the vote to 16 and 17 years olds at local council elections is good news This reflects a similar provision for that age group in Scotland.

The arguments for this reform are many, including consistency of treatment (why should somebody who can leave school, seek full-time employment, be liable for tax and obtain a licence to drive a tractor not be entrusted with the civic responsibility of voting?), and widening political participation.

But why stop at local elections? We know that the UK Government are not convinced of the case for widening the franchise but the Welsh Government clearly is and yet they have not sought to give 16 and 17-year olds the vote in Welsh Assembly elections.

Given that the franchise for both council and Assembly elections are identical, it seems inconsistent and confusing to try and divide them in this way. If 16 and 17-year olds are competent enough to vote for a local councillor then surely, they should be able to do so for a Welsh Assembly Member.

In my experience, 16 and 17-year olds are very rarely motivated by dog mess, broken pavements, the funding of social services and even the performance of local schools. They are slightly more motivated by the need for leisure facilities and public transport but don't always associate this with the council.

By way of contrast, politically aware teenagers are motivated by the environment, wider health issues such as smoking, drinking and air pollution, by the funding of further and higher education, the provision of sports facilities, transport provision, energy policy, social policy and of course jobs. All of these lie within the ambit of the Welsh Government and are far likely to encourage a young person to go and vote than the more mundane responsibilities of local councils.

So if this reform really is about extending the franchise, let's go the whole hog and allow 16 and 17-year olds to vote in Welsh Assembly elections as well.


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