Wednesday, January 26, 2011

British House of Lords debates voting rights for 16- and 17-year olds

On December 13 the British House of Lords debated an amendment that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in an upcoming referendum on electoral reform in the United Kingdom. The amendment was offered to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, and although it addressed participation in the referendum only, the debate included discussion of extending voting rights in general for this age group. This debate followed another in October during which over 200 MPs voted in favor of extending the right to vote to 16- and 17-year-olds.

Although the amendment was ultimately withdrawn, the debate demonstrated that there is significant support in Parliament for extending the franchise to younger citizens. Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, who introduced the amendment, opened debate by arguing that the lack of voting rights for 16- and 17-year-olds amounts to taxation without representation. The Baroness cited the support of the U.K. Youth Parliament, the Electoral Reform Society and the POWER Inquiry (an independent inquiry established in 2004 to find ways to deepen political participation) for lowering the voting age. According to Baroness Hayter, "there is general support for voting at 16. The objections that were thrown up were practical ones rather than issues of principle. The real issue is that nearly everyone supports the idea of voting at 16."

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