A city council executive committee is backing a request from the Edmonton Youth Council to lower the voting age for municipal elections to 16.
On Tuesday, the committee passed a motion that will see city council send a letter alongside the youth council’s letter to the province in support of amending the Local Authorities Election Act.
The requested amendment would allow 16- and 17-year-old citizens the right to vote.
“The youth councillors, first and foremost, demonstrated that young people can have a relevant voice in our democracy by bringing forward a very compelling argument with strong evidence and research that 16-year-olds have sufficient cognitive ability to express informed democratic consent and therefore to vote,” Mayor Don Iveson said.
“I was persuaded by their evidence and I think anything that over the long-term fosters greater engagement and participation in our civic democracy – and ultimately perhaps provincial and federal democracy – is a good thing.”
The City of Edmonton Youth Council is made up of as many as 20 youth between the ages of 13 and 23. Its mandate is to provide advice to city council on issues affecting youth.
In addition to highlighting the research about the cognitive development of 16- and 17-year-olds, the youth council also brought up another piece of evidence.
“If someone votes in their first election that they’re eligible to, they’re 85 per cent more likely to become life-long voters,” Marina Banister, chair of the Edmonton Youth Council, said.
Watch below: Could Edmonton’s civic voting age be lowered to 16? Some Edmonton teens are pushing for that change. Gord Steinke spoke with the City of Edmonton Youth Council’s Marina Banister about the push to allow more youth to vote.
Banister explained, while some teenagers that age aren’t yet paying taxes, many assume other adult responsibilities.
“A large majority of them are driving, they’re eligible to be in the army reserves, they can be emancipated, they can be a parent, they can drop out of school. There are many different ways that society puts social responsibility on 16- and 17-year-olds and we want to see them be able to … vote on issues that impact them.”
Banister said civic voting rights would also allow students to vote for school board trustees.
She’s optimistic the province will seriously consider the request and isn’t discouraged by naysayers.
“A lot of criticism that we get is colloquial, like: ‘when I was 16, I didn’t know anything,’ or: ‘my nephew isn’t involved.’ While those testimonies are valuable, we are more research-driven,” Banister explained. “The research tells us that when the voting age has been lowered to 16 and 17 , they do see 16- and 17-year-olds come out to the polls to vote.”
Currently, residents must be 18 or older to vote in Alberta.
In 2015, delegates at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association voted against lowering the municipal voting age to 16, a motion put forward by Lethbridge councillor Jeff Coffman.
Iveson said Tuesday he was pleased that council supported the youth council’s proposal and also added its voice to the recommendation.
“We are the youngest major Canadian city in the country so it is in a way fitting,” the mayor said. “Not only as Alberta having this great heritage of bringing forward the suffragette movement 101 years ago for women to have the vote, but I think to now look at empowering citizenship to start at 16 when people can form intent – and would like to – and could form a life-long pattern of voting behaviour, I think was an exciting day to be a part of that debate in city hall.”
The change would require support from city council as a whole and, ultimately, provincial approval.
Watch below: There is more reaction today over a push to lower Edmonton’s voting age to 16. While the City of Edmonton Youth Council’s idea took a step forward Tuesday, it turns out not everyone’s on board with the idea. Emily Mertz has more.