Blame it on my Youth

Wouldn’t it be great if we lowered the voting age to 16?

It would be great. There’s no “wrong way” to vote. Young Canadians can’t do any worse at voting than adults have for the past 40 years – not to mention that half of adults care so little about voting they don’t even bother. Any citizen sixteen years and older should be able to vote for the future they have to live in.

As adults, we disparage our youth for being apathetic and indifferent about government and public policy. We call them lazy and uninterested in the “important things”.  And then we ban them from voting. The one single act that most enables people to participate in shaping our society.

In my home province of Ontario, there are 500,000 citizens who can drive a car, go to school, work at a job and pay taxes, but can’t vote. Why? For the simple reason they are either 16 or 17 years old.

As adults, we elect Members of Provincial Parliament to decide how to run schools and education, health care and hospitals, tax rates, economic development, environment, energy and transportation policies.  These policies affect everyone in the province. Whether or not they vote.

And how do we do undertake this monumental task?

By drawing a small “X” with a pen on a piece of paper.

That’s right. So simple, even a child can do it.

My First Time
And I remember my vote, at age 18. It was a Toronto municipal election. I voted for two councillors, one “metro councilor” and one “city councillor”. I voted for names I recognized as incumbents. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” I reasoned.

The ballot also listed names of candidates for school board trustees. I didn’t know any of them, so marked off the name I best recognized from the elections signs on neighbours’ lawns. “I have good neighbours, I’ll trust their choice,” I rationalized.

Then, looking at the bottom of the ballot, my eyes widened. “Oh no.”

The ballot included a vote for Water Commissioner. What does a Water Commissioner even do?

I looked at the four candidates’ names for Water Commissioner, and struggled to imagine them having a fierce debate in front of a crowd at the local school gym about water pipes and sewers.

I slowly marked the 2nd name on the list. My vote was random, but I voted.

Frist time voting. Not too shabby. You see, there’s no wrong way to vote. And, according to the law, I was an adult. Could I possibly have done any worse if I was seventeen or sixteen? No. And since, then, of course, I brushed up on my knowledge of politics and elections. I started to read the news. I attended candidates’ debates. I even ran myself in the 2011 provincial election. I lost.

My first voting experience was just that. An experience. The very act of voting is what made me more informed and eager to learn and participate.

This is why letting 16- and 17-year olds vote is a great idea. What better way to cure this apathy, indifference and ignorance we often (and falsely) accuse today’s youth of?

Uninformed voters? Half of all adults don’t even care enough to cast a ballot
Ontario’s voter turnout is a disgrace. It’s a depressing, long, downward trend essentially showing half of all eligible adults don’t even bother to vote.

voter turnout_Page_1

If voting is so important and consequential, then why do so few adults do it?

And, there we have it.

Voting.

That hugely important, monumental task, that apparently is too advanced for uninformed teenagers to accomplish, is something that half of all adults don’t even care to do.

Maybe 16- and 17-year olds aren’t as uninformed and apathetic as we think. Maybe we should let them vote.

Mike Chopowick – Toronto, March 19, 2018

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