Marking ballots and history, young residents in Wales walked into polling stations Thursday, May 6, paper voter registration cards in hand.
“Extending the franchise to as many people as possible is a really sensible move,” said Harvey Jones.
At 22 years old, Jones is one of the youngest candidates vying for a seat in the Senedd Cymru, or Welsh parliament.
“I wasn’t old enough to vote in the last election in 2016, so this is exciting,” said Jones.
When the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020 was passed, lowering the voting age from 18 to 16, more than 70,000 new voters became eligible to select a local candidate as well as a regional representative in the Senedd.
Active citizenship and democratic participation by young people in the United Kingdom is an area of research for Andy Mycock.
“When the U.K. lowed the voting age to 18 in 1969, within a decade, every other liberal democracy had followed suit. It was like a domino effect,” said Mycock, reader at the University of Huddersfield.
“Vote at 16 has taken a much, much longer time to introduce and I think that highlights the fact that there is more complexity about this tension between the age of enfranchisement and the age of majority. But it’s happening,” said Mycock.
Scotland was the first to grant 16-year-olds the right to vote during the 2014 Independence vote.
The Electoral Reform Society would like to see the voting age reduced across the U.K.
“We’ve really learned from going into schools, we’ve spoken to hundreds of young people over the past couple of years, and they are absolutely more informed and more excited and more engaged,” said Jess Blair, director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru.
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It’s not known how many of the newly-eligible voters cast ballots.
Younger voters, however, cautioned people against rushing to judgments about interest levels based on this one election, saying time is needed.
In general, voter turnout has been low for previous Welsh parliamentary elections.
The COVID-19 pandemic also changed how candidates were able to engage with voters in an attempt to build excitement.
Still, researchers see the opening up of the democratic process in Wales leading to more younger people gaining the right to vote.
“I think that that effect will also then reach into other countries. What we’re seeing in Canada is also debates around the idea that the voting age should be lowered. The Vote16 campaign in B.C. is certainly making a lot of gains and a lot of noise. We’re also we’re seeing it in New Zealand and Australia,” said Mycock.
For now, though, the voting age remains 18 in Canada, as well as New Zealand and Australia.
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