Lowering the voting age has come up for discussion again with the ACT Greens suggesting optional voting for 16 and 17-year-olds in the 2020 Territory election.
ACT Greens Democracy spokesperson, Caroline Le Couteur MLA, said the call was in part prompted by the school strikes for climate change which saw thousands of young people take part.
“It’s clear that young people are more engaged than ever in our democratic process. These students – residents of the ACT – are concerned about their future but frustratingly aren’t able to vote,” Ms Le Couteur said.
“16 and 17-year-olds can legally work fulltime. If they are working, they pay taxes. They can drive a car, have sex and make medical decisions about their bodies. They can join the Army, Navy or Air Force. They can sign a lease, or join a political party – yet they can’t vote.
“If young people wish to take part in our democracy, they should have that option. We should give them a chance to have their say where it counts most – at the ballot box.”
Questioned if the decision to lower the voting age would benefit the Greens, Ms Le Couteur said she didn’t believe it would “necessarily be the case”.
“I would assume that any member of a political party would hope that their policies are policies that would work for young people … I see this as a push for democracy.”
Based on data from the last census, the ACT Greens estimate that this would allow at least 8,500 persons aged 16 and 17 to vote in the 2020 ACT election.
When contacted about the ACT Green’s proposal, the ACT Electoral Commission referred Canberra Weekly to their submission to the Select Committee Inquiry into the 2016 ACT election and Electoral Act. Their submission recommended retaining the minimum age of voting of 18.
The Commission reasoned that reducing the minimum voting age to 16 in the ACT would take it out of line with all other Australian jurisdictions, while they also raised legal implications of compulsory enrolment and voting for young people.
“We certainly don’t want a situation where young people are fined for not voting,” Ms Le Couteur said. “The Greens 100% support Australia’s compulsory voting, I think that’s one of the more positive things about our democracy, but we do recognise young people have different levels of interest and maturing at different rates.”
Based on the Commission’s understanding of the relevant legal provisions, their submission said “if the Assembly wished to provide for voluntary enrolment of 16 and 17-year-olds, the Commonwealth parliament would need to amend the Self-Government Act accordingly”.
The Commission’s submission also highlighted the need for additional resources related to extending and maintaining the ACT electoral roll.