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£120,000 investigation under way to consider whether 16-year-olds should get the vote

University of Huddersfield

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IMAGE: This is Dr Andy Mycock and Professor Jon Tonge. view more 

Credit: University of Huddersfield

DEMANDS to reduce the voting age for all elections in the UK have become part of political debate in the UK. Now, a Leverhulme Trust research grant of £119,740 will evaluate the position on lowering the voting age.

Undertaking the work will be the University of Huddersfield's Dr Andrew Mycock and Professor Jonathan Tonge of the University of Liverpool.

The research grant will build on previous research undertaken by the pair. Both were part of the Youth Citizenship Commission, an independent body established by the UK Government in 2008-9 to encourage more young people to engage with and participate in democratic politics. The Commission also assessed the case for and against lowering the voting age for elections across the UK. Although it recommended that the age of enfranchisement for Westminster elections should remain at 18, it encouraged the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to consider 'votes at 16'.

Dr Mycock explains the background to the research and the current political sway at Westminster: "All the political parties at Westminster, with the exceptions of the Conservatives and Democratic Unionists, support lowering the voting age. 16- and 17-year-olds voted in the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 and now vote in Scottish Parliament and local council elections. Wales may follow. In 2015, the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee recommended an inquiry into the voting age for Westminster elections.

"However, as demonstrated during the recent House of Commons debate on lowering the voting age across the UK, supporters and opponents of 'votes at 16' often draw on narrow, repetitive and speculative arguments to promote their case. There is a need for proper, evidence-based, analysis of the emergent politics of youth enfranchisement across the UK."

The research project will analyse historical and contemporary debates concerning voting age reform, youth democratic participation, and attendant rights and responsibility of youth and adult citizenship. It will compare arguments used when the UK lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1969 - the first state in the world to do so - to those now deployed. The international context to the debate will be considered via comparative analysis of the impact upon youth political engagement in the few countries where votes-at-16 are allowed.

"Voting age reform needs to be considered in the broader context of when a society believes that children - as citizens under the age of 18 are defined by the United Nations - should acquire rights and responsibilities," said Dr Mycock. Whether a 16-year-old should be prohibited from serving on a jury, standing as a candidate in an election, driving, or buying an alcoholic drink, yet allowed to vote, needs serious consideration."

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