Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, has said that the Scottish referendum must be used as a springboard for votes at 16 to be extended to all elections.
Last week, more than 100,000 16 and 17-year-olds had registered to vote in the Scottish referendum, which was the first time that they had the right to vote in a major ballot in the UK. Building on this momentum, in their debate this week the Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling for cross party support for Lord Roger Roberts’ proposals to increase the participation of young people in politics.
Lord Roberts’ private member’s ‘Voter Registration Bill’, would empower electoral registration officers in Wales to improve data sharing. This would ensure that more 16 and 17 year olds are registered to vote as soon as they are able to do so, to help overcome the decline in voter turnout amongst the younger age groups.
Kirsty Williams AM said:
“Last week’s referendum was the first time that 16 and 17 year olds have had the right to vote in a major ballot in the UK. We can’t allow this momentous occasion to just be a one-off. The Scottish referendum must be used as a springboard for votes at 16 to be extended to all elections.
“It’s terrible to think that many of the young people who took part in such an important vote will now again be excluded. They have had a taste of democracy and will wonder why the establishment is once more closing its doors.
“According to the Electoral Commission, a huge barrier to turn-out for young people is that they aren’t registered to vote. Lord Roberts’ proposals will make voter registration easier, accessible and engaging, and allow young people to register from an early age.
“As with the hugely successful ‘Schools Initiative’ in Northern Ireland, which saw around 57,000 young people added to the electoral register, Lord Roberts’ amendment would encourage schools to highlight the importance of participation in the democratic process and help pupils to complete the registration process so that they can vote as soon as they are able to.
“Voting becomes a habit, therefore is it really that surprising that so many people are disillusioned with our democracy when they are excluded from the system at the age of 16? 16 year olds are considered old enough to leave school and pay taxes, therefore it is only right they are considered old enough to have a say in how we are governed.”