16-year-olds don’t have the brains to vote
Elizabeth May’s recent suggestion that 16-year-olds should be eligible to vote federally is an example of a suggestion that is both wrong headed and potentially dangerous. I have seen this suggestion before from politicians of her stripe and even from readers of the Citizen who have erroneously put forth the same idea. Those of us who have spent long periods of time caring for or educating, children (and a 16-year-old is a child) or youths know that giving them the franchise would be extremely unwise, not to say disastrous.
Current neural research indicates that the brain does not fully develop until the age of around 25. The brain of a 16-year-old has an undeveloped prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls rational thought. From this perspective, granting voting rights to 18-year-olds is risky enough, but at least they have sometimes left home, have had to deal with some level of responsibility and are beginning to meet the challenges of adult life.
May claims that giving the vote to 16-year-olds will “refresh, restart and reboot” our democracy and make it healthier. Our democracy doesn’t need to be “rebooted” and it is already healthy. We already have all the established democratic institutions we need, time tested and revered by all who understand them, such as parliamentary government, the Bill of Rights and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We just have to stay true to them and enact their principles when we need to. A flood of 16-year-old voters is not going to improve on those principles, especially since the majority of them may not even fully understand them.
So why does May want this? If we are honest we know why. Youth almost unfailingly lean left. Those of us who have worked with them understand this. May, like the Trudeau Liberals, is after an easily controllable voting block. That block, for her, is best represented by a mass 16-year-old voters. She may talk about “renewing” Canadian society, but the truth is she is just trying to expand her voting base.