Council supports motion to seek lower voting age
By Stephanie Stevens
How young is too young to be involved with politics?
That was the debate on the table at the District of Invermere (DOI) regular scheduled council meeting Feb. 26.
At the previous meeting Feb. 5, Councillor Gerry Taft brought forward for consideration a proposed Notice of Motion (NOM) he wants the DOI to bring to the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Government (AKBLG) and Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) that would lower the voting age to 16.
Taft’s NOM also included lowering the age an individual can run for office to 16 in both provincial and federal elections.
In bringing this NOM to council, Taft is finally acting on something he has believed in since he was a teenager.
“I saw a tweet from Andrew Weaver of the Green Party and it reminded me of this issue, something I have believed in since I was 16,” he told e-KNOW.
At the meeting, however, thoughts on lowering the age varied.
Coun. Kayja Becker said she loved the idea of taking it to the two groups and lowering the voting age, but felt running for office should be left at 18.
“It is kind of like getting a novice license,” she said. Encouraging young people to get involved with politics at all levels via voting at 16 would help prepare them for the potential to run themselves at 18. She added that even for her, scheduling time for her role as an elected official was a challenge, let alone for someone still dealing with a school schedule.
Coun. Greg Anderson had similar feelings and said he would support lowering the age, but reluctantly.
“I am torn,” he said. “I can see maybe voting at 16, but I don’t think at 16 there would be enough life experience (to run for office). You are making decisions for a community.”
Taft countered that by reminding council that no one elected official makes a decision on their own.
“The idea that a 16-year-old will make or break our democracy is not relevant,” Taft said. “Also, the age to run now is 18 and we hardly see anyone that age run. I don’t think we are going to see a bunch of 16-year-olds running around council chambers.
“There is an argument that younger elected officials would need more help, and this may be a bit of a red herring, but there are some older elected officials that need help getting around now.”
Taft said he would be willing to amend his NOM to change just the voting age if council was more comfortable with that to ensure it went forward.
Becker and Anderson both indicated that would make them more inclined to support the motion.
Coun. Ute Juras, however, said she would have been fine lowering the age for both voting and running.
“I had no issue with the original motion,” Juras said, adding she supports education about government and its role at a younger age.
In response to Becker’s concern there would be scheduling issues for a teen, she said. “At 16 or 60 there can be time issues.”
Mayor Al Miller was the one member of council who was against lowering the age for either voting or running.
“I am against this,” he said. “I have been giving it a lot of thought (since Taft first brought it for consideration) and I have been talking to a lot of people, including students. At 16, they are not even paying taxes; they have no skin in the game financially. At 16, unless they are working an awful lot after school they are not aware. Even at 18 they are barely paying taxes.
“What is the right age? It has dropped from 21 to 18. Even a lot of kids I asked were not sure. They felt that some might be ready, and councillor Taft’s name did indeed come up, but not a lot of them would be ready. I am not in favour of lowering the age for either voting or running.”
But Taft did not agree that “not having skin in the game” was a legitimate argument.
“I have not made a complete study of history, but it was not that long ago that you had to be a white, male landowner to vote,” he said. “A 16-year-old has much more to gain by being involved. The impact of what happens now will be theirs and it is relevant to these young people. And some people are not educated voters no matter what age they are.”
Becker said as the council member closest to having been in high school recently, she would also like to see more opportunity for youth to be educated in political issues.
“I was a total square in high school, and I would have definitely done this. I think having a structured education early on is good, having that buy-in, creating long-term voters. We also get a different perspective that way.
“And having a safe space to learn, ask questions, talk… it is much better than something like Facebook.”
Juras agreed with Becker’s thoughts on more school exposure to government.
“If this moves forward, it may put some pressure on the school system to educate students on the role of government.”
She recalled an event she participated in at the elementary school during her tenure as Mayor of Canal Flats that explained the role of local government to the students.
“I was appalled not so much by what the kids did not know, but what some of the teachers and staff did not know, how ignorant adults are about local government and what we do,” Juras said.
Taft added an anecdote from his own time as mayor of Invermere.
“We had a group of Grade 2 students in and had a mock council meeting with them as council. We had silly things, like “should we have movie in the park or have a party with candy. You would have thought a bunch of eight or nine-year-olds would have been all for those things, but they came up with stuff like: what about the noise of a movie and will it bother neighbours? And maybe candy at a party is not healthy.
“You would be surprised how cautious and careful they were.”
The vote to amend the motion to lower only the voting age passed four to one, with Miller against, and the vote to take the NOM to AKBLG and UBCM also passed four to one, again with Miller against.
Outside of the meeting, Taft said his own experiences with politics from a young age has absolutely been a big part of his NOM and he is not concerned that teens will just “vote like their friends vote.
“Many high school students get more exposure to and discussions about politics in the school environment then 20-somethings have in their busy lives,” said Taft. “There are many adults in the same position. I don’t think the number of uninformed 16 or 17-year-olds is any higher than any other age group. Arguably because of the discussions in the school environment, they might be better informed and more engaged (than adults). The other reality is that young people have more to gain or lose from long-term decisions and impacts. Some teenagers might vote the way parents or teachers vote, but others want to prove their independence and may go in an opposite direction. Perhaps a future discussion could be around when is someone too old to vote?”
As for the DOI members who are resistant to lowering the voting age, Taft said, “the older members of council seem to feel threatened and are less supportive, clearly they know how smart and effective the younger generation is and they must be worried.”