PEI

Researcher backs up P.E.I. student's opinion on teen voting

A Bluefield High School student is getting behind a Green Party bill in the P.E.I. Legislature to lower the provincial voting age to 16.

'One of the easiest ways to strengthen democracy is increase involvement'

16- and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote in P.E.I.'s 2016 plebiscite, but a bill the next year to allow them to vote in provincial elections was defeated. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

A Bluefield High School student is getting behind a Green Party bill in the P.E.I. Legislature to lower the provincial voting age to 16.

MLA Karla Bernard introduced the private member's bill, and 17-year-old Oliver Batchilder is trying to raise support for it.

"All it can do, truly, is strengthen democracy. One of the easiest ways to strengthen democracy is increase involvement," Batchilder told Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.

"The easiest way to increase involvement is to simply expand who is eligible to be part of the electorate."

This is not the first time lowering the voting age has been discussed in the legislature.

In 2017, Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker introduced a similar bill, but it did not gain the necessary support, with most of the Progressive Conservative and Liberal MLAs voting against it.

"I've never really been able to understand why some of the bigger parties on the Island haven't been able to commit to lowering the voting age," Batchilder said.

"It doesn't really make too much sense to me."

The arguments

Batchilder said he hears two main arguments against lowering the voting age — youth are apathetic and youth are immature — and he doesn't believe either one of them holds water.

Regarding immaturity, Batchilder said that problem will take care of itself. Teenagers who don't take the vote seriously will mostly just not bother voting, he said, and so they won't disrupt elections.

Politicians may be concerned about upsetting the status quo, says Oliver Batchilder. (Submitted by Oliver Batchilder)

As for apathy, he argues youth are probably more engaged in their communities than older people.

"They're part of sports teams, they volunteer, they're part of clubs like cadets and 4-H," he said.

Ilona Dougherty, managing director of the Youth & Innovation Project at the University of Waterloo, said the research backs up Batchilder's opinions on both voter engagement and youth taking voting seriously.

"The brain research is very clear that by 15 years old young people have the full intellectual capacity of adults," said Dougherty.

Developing a habit

The voting age has already been lowered in Scotland and Austria, she said, and the results are positive.

"The research is really compelling that 16-year-olds, when they vote, really take it seriously," she said.

When you take a broader view you find that young people can tend toward the right or left, depending on time and place, says Ilona Dougherty. (Submitted by Ilona Dougherty)

Sixteen-year-olds are well placed to understand the importance of voting, she said, because that's the age they're learning about it in schools. For that same reason, she said, it's a good time to get people started on voting, and hopefully forming a lifelong habit of political engagement.

One unspoken reason parties may be against lowering the voting age, said Batchilder, is they are concerned about changing the status quo, because younger people tend to lean left.

But Dougherty said when you take a broader view you find that young people can tend toward the right or left, depending on time and place.

If the PCs and Liberals want to win over youth, Batchilder said, giving them the vote would be a great way of letting them know they are interested in hearing what youth have to say.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Jesara Sinclair

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now