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B.C. moves to register 16-, 17-year-olds to vote but won’t lower voting age

A voter arrives at a polling station on a bike to cast their ballot in the provincial election in the riding of Vancouver-Fraserview, in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday May 9, 2017. .
A voter arrives at a polling station on a bike to cast their ballot in the provincial election in the riding of Vancouver-Fraserview, in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday May 9, 2017. . The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck

Sixteen- and 17-year-old British Columbians will soon be able to register to vote but won’t yet be given the right to cast a ballot.

The B.C. government introduced legislation on Thursday giving the chief electoral officer the ability to maintain a list of future voters for youth aged 16 and 17 years, so they will be already registered when they reach the voting age of 18.

READ MORE: Lowering the voting age for local B.C. elections gets vote of confidence from UBCM

“This bill represents the most significant modernization of elections administrations in a generation,” said Attorney General David Eby.

The goal of changing the registration policy is to increase youth voter turnout and engagement.

But the legislation falls short of the BC Greens’ promise to lower the provincial voting age to 16 years old. The government saying it is not considering looking at reducing the voting age at this time.

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Green Leader Andrew Weaver has introduced legislation three separate times that would address the issue.

“The BC Greens made lowering the voting age to 16 as part of our 2017 platform because the evidence is clear: the earlier a voter casts their first ballot, the more likely they are to make voting a lifelong habit,” said Green MLA Sonia Furstenau.

“Our democracy is strongest when informed citizens engage in the governance process.”

READ MORE: May vows to lower voting age to 16, scrap current electoral system

Furstenau says allowing for the registration of 16 and 17-year-olds will lower barriers for first-time voters who come of age, ensuring they are already on Elections BC lists and able to be contacted with the information they need.

Data indicates there is a positive correlation between being registered to vote before general voting day and the act of voting itself.

“Youth today are very cognizant that they are the ones who will ultimately live with the ramifications of the choices being made by their elected officials. We see them gather by the tens of thousands in climate strikes, and we applaud their efforts,” Furstenau said.

“They are not cynical or ‘checked out;’ they believe in the role of government to safeguard the well-being of society and to be accountable to the people. British Columbia’s youth deserve a voice in their future. Registration is a good first step, and we will continue to advocate for the voting age to be lowered to 16.”

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Should the voting age be changed to 16?
Should the voting age be changed to 16?

Allowing teenagers to register to vote before they turn 18 is one of the priorities for change brought forward by Chief Electoral Office Anton Boegman.

“I welcome the opportunity to better engage young people in our elections and democratic process. Youth between the ages of 18-24 participate in B.C. provincial elections at a rate much lower than other age groups,” Boegman said.

“Enabling 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote presents a significant opportunity to remove administrative barriers to their participation when they turn 18.”

The legislation also ensures the general voters list is accurate and up to date, Elections BC will have better access to name, address and birth date information held by the province. This will supplement drivers’ licence data, which has been in use for two decades.

The proposed amendments would give Elections BC the ability to take advantage of new technology, such as vote-counting equipment to tabulate paper ballots, electronic voting books to more quickly record who has cast their ballot and ballot printers to provide flexibility for people voting outside their electoral district.

The changes are expected to make it faster for people to vote by allowing elections officials to move more people through polling stations.

“Using technology to administer voting and counting also presents a significant opportunity. Key benefits include better service for voters, more efficient data sharing to improve get-out-the-vote efforts, and faster results reporting,” Boegman said.

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“These changes can be implemented using proven, secure technology while maintaining voter-marked paper ballots.”

The legislation would also allow Elections BC to extend the campaign period for unexpected elections outside the fixed date election calendar by up to 10 days to allow election officials and candidates to better prepare for a vote.

The current 28-day period is one of the shortest in Canada and can lead to higher administrative and campaign costs for elections that were not anticipated by Elections BC.