Eleven local high school students joined MLA Michelle Mungall to discuss a proposed reduction in the age at which voters may register.
The students from L.V. Rogers and Self Design High connected with Mungall for lunch and a round table discussion Tuesday.
Tavy Wickman-Ratthe, a student at LVR secondary school, is pleased with the bill.
“This plan shows a positive step toward engaging young people so that when they are of the age to vote, they will be more informed and prepared about enacting their right,” he says.
On March 11, NDP leader Adrian Dix tabled a private members bill that would amend the Election Act to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to register to vote while voting age would remain at 18.
In 2011, Keith Archer, the Chief Electoral Officer of British Columbia recommended lowering the age of voter registration as a means to increase voter turnout. As few as one in five voters between the ages of 18 and 25 are registered to vote, making them the demographic that is least likely to cast their ballot on election day.
“We have to end the vicious circle in which young people don’t vote because they don’t see their issues reflected in the debate, which in turn makes our politics even less likely to take young people’s concerns seriously,” says Mungall.
Student Dryden Hill would prefer to see the voting age lowered, but views this as an important first step in lowering voter age.
“I feel like although it’s not the whole way, any step towards the right direction is the right way to go. If you don’t take any steps at all, nothing is going to happen,” he says.
Hill doesn’t see his peers having strong political views of their own. Their stance most often comes from parents or adults. Lowering the voting age would get their attention and fuel original thought, he says.
“They would see other kids stepping up and trying to make it happen,” he says.
Eija Loponen-Stephenson agrees.
“It would be really great just to start learning about these things at a younger age so that we can start developing our own opinions away from our parents and our teachers so we can make informed opinions of our own,” she says.
The student realizes opinions can be formed regardless of the new act to allow early registration, but says the political push and access to resources accompanying would make a difference in youth political activity.
Mungall explains lowering the age at which people can register to vote makes the entry point into talking about politics younger as well.
“It’s proven to be quite successful in other jurisdictions that are going forward with this,” she says, citing Australia and New Zealand along with US states such as Florida, Hawaii, Oregon and California as examples of where lowering voter registration age has worked well.
The NDP MLA realizes this isn’t the magic solution to getting kids involved in politics.
“It’s one of the tools in our toolbox,” she says. “There’s no one solution especially when you are dealing with engaging individuals on this level. But what can have the biggest impact? At least let’s give it a try.”