It is being reported in the media that Labour has come out in support of votes at 16.
There is now a key opportunity to provide important add-ons to the policy, which will (a) ensure full electoral registration for those acquiring the vote, (b) encourage a good turnout from the newly enfranchised and (c) will enable these 16 and 17 year olds names to be retained on the electoral registers as they grow older.
Providing voting rights from 16 can be used as an essential step to tackling the serious problem of voter under-registration. The Electoral Commission reported that at least 6 million people are missing from electoral registers. Yet we also see that the under-registration figure is likely to be larger than this, as census details have revealed 1.57 million people in England and Wales have second addresses and this will entitle many of them to double registration. If, say, 1 million throughout the UK have done this, that means that under-registration is actually over the 7 million mark. There are even indications recently by the Electoral Commission that 2 million more may need to be added to these under-registration figures.
With votes at 16, the names of "attainers" would be included on registers when they were 15, showing the dates of their coming birthdays and their then entitlement to vote. If registration for these first-time voters took place via their schools, an initial registration of almost 100% could be achieved. A proactive registration system could then be put in place to ensure that most of those who initially registered did not slip through the net later in life.
As under-registration is high among the 18-25 age group, the poor, the rootless and ethnic minorities; this also leads to a situation where the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies are seriously distorted. A system of initial registration via schools, with an associated and imaginative educational programme, could start to correct this imbalance and develop a commitment amongst young people to use and improve the democratic process. With almost universal registrations being achieved for 16 year olds via their schools, electoral registration officers could also be given the authority and resources to trace the addresses of the people concerned as they grow older and have often moved their homes. This would have an early impact by ensuring that most of those newly enfranchised would be on the registers as they moved into the under-represented 18-25 age range. Many of the newly enfranchised 16 year olds will also, of course, already fit (or come to fit) into the categories of other groups who currently suffer from under-registration.
Provision for pro-active electoral registration methods (including relevant education programmes in schools for 15 year olds about the democratic process) can hopefully be added to Labour's welcome commitment.