Edmonton's youth council is pushing the province to lower the municipal voting age to 16, a change its says would benefit both city council and school boards.
Because 16- and 17-year-olds use city roads, facilities and transportation, and learn about government in school, they should have a greater say in shaping their city by being able to cast a ballot, said Cameron Somerville, vice-chair of the City of Edmonton Youth Council.
"They can be emancipated, living on their own, paying property taxes; they can be in the army reserves, they can be a parent, yet they're not old enough to vote," Somerville told Radio Active on Wednesday. "We think 16- and 17-year-olds are ready for this change."
Youth want to vote, Somerville says
In September, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association voted against allowing those under 18 to vote. But Somerville, who is 18 years old, said the idea is worth revisiting, since young people are more engaged in their communities than ever. Increased access to information has made a huge difference in teenagers' political engagement, he said.
Somerville said the Edmonton youth council surveyed a group of 16- and 17-year-olds, and the response was overwhelmingly in favour of lowering the voting age.
Lowering the voting age has long-term benefits, he said. Austria lowered its voting age to 16 for national elections in 2007. Six years later, Somerville said, Austria's voter turnout was higher among 16- and 17-year-olds than 18- to 20- year-olds.
"This is important because people who vote in their first election are more likely to become lifelong voters," Somerville said.
"So that higher turnout among people voting in their first election means there will be lifelong voters, and ultimately more voter engagement for city council, which allows them to have more of a mandate from the people and also potentially run on broader platforms."
'This is a very logical change'
Somerville said changing the Elections Act would also automatically change the school board trustee voting age.
This would give students the ability to vote for change within their own school system, he said.
"This is a very logical change, to have people in the school system be able to decide who runs the school system," Somerville said. "And also it would give a great opportunity to school trustees, people running for those positions, to have in their platforms issues catered to students, which will ultimately allow school boards to do their jobs more effectively."
Last year, there was a student trustee on the Edmonton Public School Board, but the position was axed because of cost concerns, Somerville added.
The Edmonton youth council moved forward with the motion at a meeting on March 2. Its next step will be to gather letters from other levels of government, and work with community groups to ask the provincial government to lower the municipal voting age. The motion will likely go before council in early May.
"I think a lot of the time there hasn't been a lot of discussion from both sides on the issue, and a lot of discussion about how this could overall positively affect society," Somerville said. "It's not just about 16- and 17-year-olds, it's about creating a better environment for everyone."