If you have a look at this article in Macleans, you'll understand why I felt that I had to write this letter:
To the Editor:
My name is Andrew Woodrow, and I am a 28-year-old Torontonian voter.
I am writing in response to the article that examines the suitability of 18 as Canada's voting age.
I do not think this article considered the most important question surrounding voting age. It seems to me that our government is built on the consent and participation of the governed (if nothing else, that is the rhetoric on which it's built). The question we should ask is not "How do we get more people to vote?" or "Are 18-year-olds (or 16-, or 21-year-olds) able to vote well?", but rather "Can we legitimately make laws which govern young people, while denying them the vote?"
Our government lacks the legitimacy it claims when it unreasonably excludes certain demographics from voting. Now, an infant cannot vote; I would say that it's pretty reasonable to exclude babes-in-arms from the voting process. But are 17-year-olds specifically and demonstrably less able to vote than their elders? Clearly not.
Your article cited David Denver, a British professor, who expressed his belief that young people have less of a "political memory". He meant, in saying this, that they were less qualified than older people to vote, because they "can't remember Mrs Thatcher". This may indeed be the case. I do not have any particular confidence that younger people would vote well. That said, Mr Denver's contribution to the discussion would be more pertinent if we tested each citizen's political memory before registering her to vote. But we don't.
Instead, we allow everyone whom we expect to be bound by our laws to contribute to their creation. Everyone except the young.
Oh, yes. The gullible vote. The confused vote. Those with poor political memories vote. The stupid vote (if election results in the last few decades are any indication). Everybody gets to vote. Otherwise, we might as well not bother. If we demand any qualification other than citizenship, we'd better have a darned good reason.
The value of our system is that it is representative and responsible. We cannot expect young people to understand and value this system if they themselves are disenfranchised by it. Democracy is made a joke to the student who has the capacity to understand that it is available to society at large, but not available to him.
I believe that the voting age must be lowered to as young as possible. The point at which we expect people to have an appreciation and understanding of our system is the point at which the voting age must be set. (As one guideline: the public education system in Ontario taught me about our government when I was 13).
People take ownership of things that they have a hand in. I believe that the closer we can get to universal suffrage, the better.
(It's perhaps not the most persuasive letter-to-the-editor I've written on this topic, but writing it made me feel better.)