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16-Year-Olds Just Won the Right to Vote in This Country

Welsh politics is changing — and young people are front and centre.

All 16- and 17-year olds in Wales will soon be able to vote in local elections, as part of a wider reform proposal that will also test new, innovative ways of voting.

Take Action: Join Rihanna and ask Norway to #FundEducation

Foreign nationals (non-UK citizens who legally live in Wales) will also be able to vote in council elections, affecting approximately 70,000 people in total who are presently unable to vote. It is currently not planned to extend to national elections.

In response to people’s busy lives, there are also some ideas being considered to make voting easier. Digital voting and mobile polling stations are under discussion, with new locations like supermarkets, leisure centres and railway stations set to be opened up to balloting, according to the Guardian.

Wales will be able to change voting systems independently of the UK government after the 2017 Wales Act comes into effect in April. The act also grants the Welsh further powers over transport, energy, and income tax rates.

via GIPHY

“Local democracy is all about participation,” said Alun Davies, the cabinet secretary for local government and public services. “We want to boost the numbers registered as electors, make it easier for people to cast their votes and give more people the right to take part.”

Davies wants to make the voting process more “attractive, welcoming, and transparent.” Jessica Blair, director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru, agrees.

“It is an opportunity for Wales to lead the way in creating a political system that works for everybody and it is particularly pertinent as we recognise the centenary of the first women getting the vote,” she said.

In Scotland, 16- and 17-year-olds have been able to vote in local elections since 18 June 2015 — the same day that Westminster MPs struck down an amendment that could have allowed all British over-16s to vote in the referendum to leave the European Union. There were 100,000 16- and 17-year-olds that turned up to vote in the Scottish independence referendum in September 2014. According to a survey commissioned by Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft, 71% of them voted for independence.

Read More: The Age Gap — How the Old Defied the Young on Brexit & Trump

Giving the vote to over-16s across the UK could create a significant change of landscape in British politics — which is, in general, seeing an ever-greater generational divide.

During the June 2016 Brexit vote, for example, 71% of 18-24-year-olds voted to remain in the European Union, compared to 61% of over-65s who voted to leave. Turnout was wildly different too: one study suggested 64% of registered 18-24-year-old actually voted, in contrast to 90% of over-65s. Some polls have predicted the final result could have been very different had over-16s also been able to have a say.

In November 2017, a private member’s bill — a piece of legislation not officially part of the government’s agenda — was put forward to lower the national voting age to 16. However, the UK government currently has no plans to lower the voting age to 16, according to the BBC.

“Youthquake” was the Oxford English Dictionaries’ 2017 word of the year — used to describe a “political awakening of the oft-maligned millennial generation.” Use of the word peaked around the June general election, when an unprecedented number of young people turned out to have their say. However, it emerged on January 29 that the surge may very well have been exaggerated.

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, including Goal No. 16 for peace, justice, and strong institutions. We believe the world needs more people who are informed about global challenges, passionate about change, and ready to raise their voices to make a difference. Take action with us here.