Should Voting Be Made Compulsory?
Reasons why voting should be made compulsory include:
- Turnout would increase, therefore going some way towards resolving the UK’s ‘participation crisis’
- Governments could be claim to be more legitimate, because more people would have voted for them. Currently, the winning party mostly receives only 35-40% of the vote, and that is of those who actually voted (usually 60-70% of those eligible)
- People may be more civic-minded, seeing voting as a duty rather than a right, therefore encouraging more people to be educated about politics
- If everyone has to vote, politicians will consider the views of everyone, not just those who are likely to vote. For example, those most likely to vote in the UK are older people (over 50, and those who are retired), so the views of younger voters are not as much of a priority for politicians
Reasons why voting should not be made compulsory include:
- It could be argued to be an abuse of freedom- the removal of the choice not to vote. Some may choose not to vote deliberately, as a political act- this choice would no longer be possible
- Although turnout may increase, this does not necessarily mean people will automatically become more engaged in politics
- Forcing people to vote may increase the number of ill-thought out and unconsidered choices
- Politicians may focus their efforts more on volatile voters, who would not normally vote. Therefore, their interests are considered more than others’
A current movement to extend the franchise- votes at 16
The voting age was lowered to 16 for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. At the time, there was an agreement that this should extend to all subsequent elections in Scotland. Proposals were put forward to lower the voting age to 16 for the 2016 EU membership referendum, although these were not carried through. Ed Miliband pledged to lower the voting age in Labour had won the 2015 election. However, the voting age remains at 18 in the UK. A current movement working to change this is votesat16.org (the Votes at 16 Coalition).
Votes at 16 emerged from demands from the British Youth Council to lower the voting age at the turn of the 21st century. The proposal was first supported by the Liberal Democrats- a pledge to lower the voting age appeared in their 2001 manifesto. Other politicians from various parties also joined the cause in subsequent years. Private members’ bills are initiated to lower the voting age to 16, however none get the necessary support in Parliament. In 2008, the Welsh Assembly voted in favour of lowering the voting age. In 2009, the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of allowing 16-17 year olds a vote in an independence referendum, and this is agreed in 2012. Politicians in Northern Ireland recommend that the voting age should be lowered. In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, 75% of 16-17 year olds voted.
Votes at 16 is supported by the Electoral Reform Society, the SNP, Labour, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrats, and some Conservative politicians.
Should the voting age be lowered?
Arguments in favour include:
- 16 year-olds can already join the army, have sex, get married and leave home, therefore there is a recognition that they are responsible
- Youth interests are currently neglected by politicians, who know they don’t need the votes of those under 16
- It would strengthen political interest and engagement amongst young people
- 18 is something of an arbitrary cut-off point- lots of intelligent, educated 17 year-olds are denied the right to vote, and no restrictions are applied to ignorant and poorly-educated adults
Arguments against include:
- Most 16 year-olds are not full citizens, in the sense that most live with their parents, are in education rather than full-time employment, and most have an incomplete understanding of (and lack of interest in) politics
- Childhood and adolescence should be a time of personal development and enjoyment, not of weighty political responsibility
- Young people are not permanently denied representation (unlike women in the past)
- Turnout percentage may decrease, as 16-17 year-olds may be less likely to vote, therefore undermining the legitimacy of elected governments
- When was female suffrage first achieved in the UK?
- Which UK citizens cannot vote?
- When were 16 year-olds allowed to vote in the UK recently?
- Your answer should include: Scottish / Independence
- What percentage of MPs were female after the 2015 election?
- When was the vote given to working-class men for the first time?
- Which party has mostly not been in favour of reducing the voting age?