Young people are the latest electoral battleground. First came the Labour Party proposal to lower the voting age to 16. Ostensibly, the plan is to “reinvigorate” politics, but cynics suggest it might be motivated by the – perhaps mistaken – belief that more youngsters voting will boost support for the left.
And now a think-tank is proposing that those eligible to vote for the first time are compelled to the ballot box by the threat of a fine. Once a young person has a taste of civic participation, the Institute of Public Policy Research suggests, a life-long habit will follow.
Neither notion stands up to scrutiny. For all that young people appear to grow up ever faster, a 16-year-old is, nonetheless, still very much a child. The law is somewhat confused on the point. A 16-year-old can get married, join the army and ride a moped, but not buy alcohol, give blood or hold a driving licence. But the trend is upwards, rather than downwards, with the school-leaving age rising to 17 this year and 18 in 2015. The proposal to lower the voting age is not only ill-advised, then, it is also incoherent.
Meanwhile, the lack of participation by the nation’s young adults – wherever the line is drawn – may be a genuine issue. But compulsion is not the solution to it. Not only is there no reason to think that such a scheme would work. It is also both impractical and undesirable to divide the electorate, compelling one section to vote while others are free to do as they wish. If voting is to be mandatory, it must be mandatory for all. Much better to leave everyone with the right to choose.