Elyssa Sunray and Myrika McDonald are joined by classmates as they lobby the provincial government to lower the voting age to 16. This photo shows them on the steps of the Legislative Assembly. (Photo submitted)

Saanich teens lobby for right to vote

Claremont students support bill that would lower B.C.’s voting age to 16

The arguments against lowering the voting age to 16 from 18 are familiar.

Teenagers do not care about politics, they do not have a stake in the system, and they, well, do not have the intellectual firepower to participate in the political process.

Myrika McDonald and Elyssa Sunray, both 17, have heard all of these arguments before, and their attitudes and actions challenge each and every one of them.

As future leaders, youth have a right to speak, said McDonald. Sixteen-year-olds are educated and engaged enough thanks to school and social media, she added.

“At 16, it is a good idea to get more youth involved in political issues, as it affects us as well,” she said.

While it does not have a direct connection to voting rights, last weekend’s March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. demonstrated the power of youth to shape the political discourse.

McDonald sounded especially critical of the view that youth by virtue of being young do not have the intellect to make informed choices “There are people older than 18 who may not be as capable as 16-year-olds,” she said.

Sunray agrees. Older critics of a lower voting age fail to consider that education has changed significantly since they attended school.

The intellectual journey of McDonald and Sunray towards re-jigging the voting system began a few weeks ago, when they discussed the subject during philosophy class at Claremont secondary school.

It then led the duo to the steps of the Legislative Assembly, where they along with friends held up signs with slogans like ‘Do We Get a Say Too?’ and ‘It’s Our Right Too’ while covering their mouths with duct tape to symbolize the silence that the current voting system has forced upon them.

These local expressions of unfulfilled political expectations happen against developments that speak to the growing strength of youth in the western world and beyond. Starting in the 1990s, states around the world explored the extension of voting to 16-year-olds.

Austria and Brazil have since amended their eligibility rules. The English-speaking world including Canada has also studied the subject as part of efforts to raise political participation rates. Four years ago, Scotland became the first part of the United Kingdom to extend the franchise to 16-years-olds, and 17-year-olds for parliamentary elections.

British Columbia could join this small but growing company of jurisdictions. B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver has tabled a private member’s bill to lower the voting age, and B.C. premier John Horgan, whom McDonald has directly written, has said he would be open to the proposal.

“I almost feel like it’s 50-50,” said Sunray, when asked about the odds of success. “They have already tried a couple of times to do it.” As such, British Columbia could be an example for other provinces to follow, said Sunray.

While McDonald and Sunray find encouragement in the statements of Weaver and Horgan, they stress that their efforts are non-partisan. “People are making this a lot about the political parties,” said Sunray. But that would be a mistake, she said.

“This is more about fighting for those who can fight for our future, as well. So we are trying to stand up for them,” said McDonald. “Change should be welcomed, not feared,” added Sunray.

For now, the duo continues to drum up analog and virtual support under #letusvote. “We are just trying to get the news across any way possible,” said McDonald.

“We are 17 and by the time this actually gets passed, it won’t matter for us,” said Sunray. “We are fighting for the people that it will affect in the future.”

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