Voting age should stay at 18 says The Electoral Commission
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Monday 19 April 2004
The Electoral Commission today recommended that the minimum age for all levels of voting at UK public elections should remain at 18 years, but that the minimum candidacy age should be reduced from 21 to 18.
The Commission began its 12 month review considering the age of electoral majority partly in response to increasing concerns about declining electoral participation and engagement amongst younger people  but also as a result of a specific request by young people themselves that we seriously consider the arguments for lowering the voting age. 
Arguments that influenced the decision of The Electoral Commission to recommend maintaining the minimum voting age at 18 included:
- International comparisons - most countries have a minimum voting age of 18 and a pattern of harmonised voting and candidacy ages prevails across Europe and Commonwealth countries.
- Minimum age limits and maturity - there is no single definition of maturity. Other age-related rights vary widely and none are directly comparable with the right to vote or stand at elections.
- Research carried out among the public on behalf of The Electoral Commission suggested strong support for keeping the current minimum voting age and young people themselves were divided on whether they were ready to be given voting rights at 16. The majority of the 7,500 responses received by the Commission to its consultation were in favour of lowering the voting age to16.
- Voter turnout - evidence suggests that lowering the voting age would decrease the overall percentage turnout in the short term due to the additional numbers of eligible but disengaged voters. Longer term effects are also disputed.
The Commission is recommending a further formal review within five to seven years, by which time it will have undertaken further research on the social and political awareness of those at or near the current minimum voting age. Furthermore, compulsory citizenship education in UK schools will have had longer to develop, which the Commission believes could contribute significantly to the development of young peoples social and political literacy and sense of responsibility.
In addition, the Commission found no reasonable argument why the candidacy age should not be brought into line with the current voting age and has recommended harmonisation of the two. It is the Commissions view that there may well be people younger than 21 who are capable of acting as effective elected representatives, and the election process itself provides voters with a means of accepting or rejecting such candidates. It stressed however the need for further review should the voting age be reduced below 18 in the future.
To support its consultation, the Commission undertook extensive public opinion polling, ran Question Time events provided lesson plans for schools and colleges, held fringe events at party conferences, and funded the Hansard Societys HeadsUp voting age discussion forum. In addition, voting and candidacy age formed the central theme of the Local Government Associations Local Democracy Week in October 2003. Responses to the review were received from young people as well as individual politicians and members of the general public.
To complement responses, research was undertaken by ICM for The Electoral Commission in November 2003, measuring the views of those of voting age and younger. Findings revealed that the majority of young people supported the retention of a minimum voting age of 18, based predominantly on perceptions of maturity and readiness for decision-making. Asked at what age people should be able to stand as an electoral candidate however, respondents recommended a preferred average candidacy age of 20.
Sam Younger, Chairman of The Electoral Commission says: 'The evidence from the review suggests that while many young people under 18 would feel ready to vote, there are just as many who feel that 16 is too young. The majority of the representative cross-section of young people responding to the ICM research made it clear that they dont feel ready for the responsibility of voting at 16 and that has helped inform our recommendations.'
The Commission considered a number of alternatives to wholesale change including varying ages for different elections, pilot schemes for minimum ages, and voluntary registration for 16 and 17 year olds. While none were considered appropriate, the Commission is keen to explore in any future review the concept of different minimum ages for different elections.
The full report and recommendations on the minimum voting and candidacy age for public elections in the UK are available on the Commissions website www.electoralcommission.org.uk
For further information contact:
Maxine Hoeksma on 020 7271 0531, Tabitha Cunniffe on 020 7271 0529 or
Gemma Crosland on 020 7271 0527 Out of office hours ring 07789 920414
Notes to editors:
- The Electoral Commission is an independent body established by Parliament. It aims to ensure public confidence and participation in the democratic process within the United Kingdom through modernisation of the electoral process and promotion of public awareness of electoral matters.
- Estimated turnout of 18-24 year old age group was 39% at the 2001 general election (MORI 2001 British Public Opinion: General election June 2001) and 11% at local elections in 2002 (NOP / Electoral Commission 2002).
- The Commission launched the open consultation stage of its voting age review in July 2003 following recommendations in the Children and Young Peoples Unit report, Young people and politics, that it seriously consider the arguments for lowering the voting age in order to help re-engage young people with the political process, and also as part of its responsibility to keep the law and policy on UK public elections under review.
- In the European Union and most Western democracies there is a minimum voting age of 18; although there are some variations within countries, e.g. a higher voting age for senior levels of government and a lower voting age for local elections.
- ICM conducted a survey among a representative sample of UK adults. 1,033 interviews were conducted between 19-20 November 2003 and a further 234 interviews with 15-19 years olds. ICMs full report with analysis is available at: www.electoralcomission.org.uk/about-us/researchpub.cfm