Sixteen and 17-year-olds in Wales will be given the right to vote in council elections, under plans announced by the Welsh Labour government.
In a move that will heap pressure on Theresa May to extend the right to younger voters in England the proposals – due to be announced on Tuesday – are designed to boost participation in the region.
The Welsh Cabinet Secretary for local government Alun Davies said: “I am concerned we are still seeing far too many people, particularly young people, disengaged from the political process.
“There are many reasons for this but we must do more to make the process more attractive, welcoming and transparent.”
And Labour’s national party seized on the plans, reiterating the call to give 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in UK general elections, arguing that the current rules which only allow those aged 18 and over to participate were “inconsistent and unsustainable”.
The proposals by the Welsh administration will bring them in line with the Scottish government, who decided to extend the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds in all Scottish parliamentary and council elections. The countries will now be at odds with England and Northern Ireland.
Cat Smith, the shadow voter engagement minister, said the Welsh Labour administration is “leading the way” by extending the right to vote.
But, she added: “We are now in an inconsistent and unsustainable position where a 16-year-old living in Wales and Scotland can vote in local elections, yet they are denied the right to vote in UK general elections. The Conservative Party is quickly finding themselves on the wrong side of history, while Labour is yet again showing that they are the party of the many.
“The time has now come for the UK Government to extend the franchise to all 16 and 17-year-olds, and ensure equal voting rights across the United Kingdom.”
The Electoral Reform Society, who have lobbied for votes at 16, said there will now be a “glaring constitutional injustice” with 16 and 17-year-olds being able to vote in local elections in Scotland and Wales while around a million people of the same age will be denied the right in England and Northern Ireland.
“The Welsh government is setting a positive example for Westminster – it’s time the UK Government followed suit in backing a franchise fit for the 21st century,” said the ERS’s chief executive Darren Hughes.
He added: “This is now in Theresa May’s ballpark – and if she wants to show she is committed to a stronger and less divided country she should get behind the movement for a fairer franchise. This is about being on the right side of history and we hope the UK government now come forward with proposals for reform in line with Wales and Scotland.”
But following Ms May’s decision to call a general election in 2017, the Prime Minister argued votes at 16 was a question where “you have to draw a line”.
She added: “You have to pick a point at which you think it is right for the voting age to be. I continue to think it is right for it to be 18.”
While the Conservative Party has historically opposed reducing the voting age a pamphlet written by the Prime Minister’s former deputy Damian Green, the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, and the senior Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, argued for lowering the age in September 2015.
In her section Ms Davidson – commenting on the impact of lowering the voting age for the Scottish independence referendum – wrote: “The political motives for the decision may have been questionable but the democratic effect turned out to be entirely positive”.
The move by the Welsh government comes after Labour accused the Conservatives late last year of “sabotaging” an attempt by Labour MP Jim McMahon to lower the voting age through his private member’s bill.
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