Opinion split over allowing 16-year-olds to vote

Beaches-East York MPP Arthur Potts has introduced a bill that would lower the voting age for Ontario elections by two years

At age 16, Canadians can work, drive and file income tax. But should they be able to cast a ballot?

Beaches-East York MPP Arthur Potts introduced a private member’s bill in the Ontario legislature on March 5 proposing that the current voting age of 18 be lowered to 16.

“Boosting voter turnout is a part of the goal,” Potts said. “But it’s more about youth engagement.”

Potts gave credit to the young Liberals as his inspiration for the bill.

“I was asked by youth. Most of them are in high school,” Potts said. “They do all this work and are fully engaged, but they asked me, ‘Why don’t we get to vote?'”

Alex Mulligan, 21, is a member of  the Beaches-East York Young Liberals. He said lowering the voting age is a “good way for youth to have some representation in the democracy, as well as to encourage youth activism across the political spectrum.”

Potts recalled that when he was 16, he was president of the Young Liberals Association. At that age, he said, he was already mature enough to handle responsibilities.

“There’s no right or wrong vote in the election,” Mulligan said. “And people over 18 aren’t necessarily more knowledgeable or mature than those a year or two younger.”

Councillor Janet Davis (Ward 31) is not against lowering the voting age. She is, however, against the timing Potts chose. She voiced her opinions via Twitter.

“It’s almost an insult to young people to put this through as a private member’s bill that has no chance at success,” Davis said. “If it goes through, I’ll eat my words, but normally a private member’s bill before the last days of the government has very little prospect of success, and that’s too bad that (Potts) chose to do it that way.”

Although Davis fully supports giving young people the chance to vote in elections, she said introducing a private member’s bill at the “11th hour” is simply “dirty politics.”

The Observer conducted a few street interviews to see how East Yorkers felt about lowering the voting age.

“They’re still learning,” said Paul Hurl, 61. “Yes, they’re young adults, but their minds can still be influenced by other people at that age.”

Tim Spears, 57,  a retired TTC supervisor agreed. “Sixteen-year-olds are just not mature enough. They still got some living to do, so allowing them to vote is just not a good idea.”

On the other hand, 31-year-old Katie Komina, a stay-at-home mom, said it would be a good idea to allow younger people to vote because “the ones who would vote are the ones who care enough and are probably the ones who are aware of the issues going on in the community, so it doesn’t really matter how old they are.”

Others are ambivalent.

“Representing the youth is really important,” said Saagari Coleman, 22, a university student. “Young people have valid thoughts and ideas, too, but it’s hard to say because sometimes democracy itself likes to see the populist sentiment, like Trump was elected because a lot of young people were interested, so I’m on the fence about it.”