Canada Considers Lowering Voting Age To 16 In Effort To Increase Election Participation

A plan to lower the voting age in Canada to 16 from its current level of 18 is getting a serious push on Parliament Hill as politicians and bureaucrats consider ways to boost electoral participation and engagement in the political process.

In fact, Canada's elections chief says Parliament could look at lowering the voting age to 16 to boost Canadians' lifelong participation in the democratic process. Stéphane Perrault, acting Chief Electoral Officer, told CBC News that changing the minimum legal age for casting a ballot is a "fundamental policy" change only Parliament can make — but he thinks it's "worth considering."

"Voting when you're 16 is voting at a time when most Canadians at that age are still in school, at a place that we can actually get to them and engage them," he said. "We know that Canadians who vote early in their lifetime will continue to vote, and those who don't vote in the first few elections will tend not to vote later on. So there's a real benefit to making sure that Canadians vote early, and voting when you're 16, there's an opportunity to reach out to them."

Other countries, such as Scotland and Austria, have lowered their minimum voting age to 16. British Columbia is now looking at the issue provincially, with a legislative move underway to allow younger voters. Mr. Perrault said the issue has not been extensively debated in Parliament. While 18 is widely considered the "age of majority" in Canada, Canadians are granted other rights at age 16, such as the right to drive a vehicle.

And since most 16-year-olds are still in high school, elections and voting could become part of their civic education. Voting is a "foreign" concept to them until they actually take part in it, Mr. Perrault said. In 2015, voter turnout among those aged 18 to 24 increased 18.3 points, to 57.1%, up from 38.8% in 2011.

In an effort to further increase the youth vote, Elections Canada will be expanding a pilot project it launched in 2015 which set up satellite polling stations at 39 university and college campuses across the country. There will be 110 satellite stations in place in 88 electoral districts for the 2019 election, along with additional Elections Canada staff. The offices — which provide voters with election information and allow them to register or vote — will be open for five days prior to and including the election itself, up from four. Mr. Perrault called that a "significant expansion" that should draw in more youth voters.