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Who counts?: Youth engagement and the age of majority

French, R. (2007) Who counts?: Youth engagement and the age of majority. Internship Report, Murdoch University.

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This paper was written for the Western Australian Electoral Commission as part of a Public Sector Internship conducted through Murdoch University. It examines the issues of youth voting and engagement in the context of lowering the voting age.

The question of whether or not to lower the voting age, and the connected problem of youth engagement, are issues being debated at an international level. On the one hand voting is a democratic right enjoyed by most adults, yet denied to young people who are able to engage in other adult responsibilities; on the other hand there is evidence to suggest that more and more young people, who are able to, are disconnecting from the process of voting. The question of the voting age, therefore, is somewhat of a conundrum. Often the solution to the latter problem is sought in the answer to the first - that is, by lowering the voting age we can substantially address the problem of engagement by catching the youth vote earlier. Or, because of the latter problem -disengagement, it is not worth addressing the former - age. As this paper stresses though, these are misguided approaches which avoid the depth of the problem. In order for voting to become a democratic right available to all people, including the young, it needs to be addressed alongside the issue of engagement.

This paper firmly endorses a lowering of the voting age from the present age of 18 but argues for a deeper understanding of the position of young people and their so-called disengagement, in order to support a process of reconnection to the democratic principles of inclusion, participation and equality. The paper places the question of the voting age in the context of citizenship and the rights of the child and in so doing it highlights the characteristics of a decent citizenship and links them to the human rights’ needs of children and young people. The Western Australian Citizenship Strategy is used as a model of citizenship with the potential to embrace and support the needs of a younger electorate.

With a participatory citizenship in mind, five recent Australian reports on youth voting are discussed in order to expose the problems underlying the enfranchisement of young people, and to extend the idea of democracy as lived experience which leads to, rather than begins with, the crucial democratic activity of voting. If young people were to experience participation and inclusion as a real part of their daily existence, the problem of disconnection at election time would be non-existent. At the same time, earlier enfranchisement can be offered now to young people as a first and genuine step towards a progressive and inclusive democratic citizenship.

Item Type: Internship Report (Parliamentary)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Politics and International Studies
Notes: Student report prepared as part of the requirements of the Parliamentary and Public Sector Internship (POL322)
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