Calgary

Lethbridge council wants to lower voting age to 16

Lethbridge city council wants to lower the municipal voting age to 16 in hopes of improving long-term voter turnout.

High school students more engaged in politics than ever before, argues councillor Jeff Coffman

Councillors in Lethbridge are joining the movement to lower the voting age to 16. The Federation of Young Francophones, headed by vice-president Melissa Martel, left, and president Marc-Andre LeBlanc, want New Brunswick's voting age lowered to 16. (YouTube)

Lethbridge city council wants to lower the municipal voting age to 16 in hopes of improving long-term voter turnout.

Councillors approved the resolution this week and the issue will go the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association for approval. Alberta would then have to change the act governing municipal elections.

Jeff Coffman, the Lethbridge city councillor behind the idea to lower the voting age, said capturing the attention of youth might improve the participation rate in elections.

"The hook is definitely to get them interested early, to get them participating earlier. There's lots of academic research at the federal level that if you can get someone to vote the first time they get out of the gate… it creates what we call a sticky habit and it gives them the propensity for them to vote throughout their life."

High school students study democracy

While Coffman admits he didn't have much interest in politics at 16, he says high school students now take social studies programs focused around the issues of democracy and citizenship.

Tying the right to vote to paying taxes is problematic, especially at the municipal level, he said.

"If we follow that thesis through a little more, what you are saying is there should only be one vote per household because municipal taxation is based on property tax. That means we should be extending multiple votes to business owners and to landlords. It means that renters shouldn't be voting."

People who are 16 and 17 already drive on the roads, use recreation facilities and access other municipal resources.

Many countries allow voting at 16, according to the lobbying website Votesat16.org. In the United States, two cities in the state of Maryland have already lowered the voting age for municipal elections to 16. 

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