It’s Debatable: Should there be an upper age limit on the right to vote?

The last five years of political controversy have revealed one of the biggest culture wars in our country: old versus young. This generational divergence in voting has sparked a discussion over whether young people are suffering from the electoral decisions of the older generation. Comment writers Olivia Clark and Mia Morgalla debate whether this divisive climate can be solved by enforcing an upper age restriction on the right to vote.

For – Olivia Clark 

The last decade of politics has been rife with controversies. It seems we cannot catch a break. From coalition governments, to referendum votes, and a rolling carousel of parody Prime Ministers, it’s hard not to wonder ‘who the hell keeps voting for this?’
It’s no secret that grey voters have power in public votes. In the 2016 Brexit referendum, 90% of over 65s turned out to vote; they are our most enfranchised demographic. Does that leave young people as apathetic and under-represented? Should we strip the vote of old people for a fairer vote spread? How could that be justified?

It feels unfair to claim that young people are disinterested though. In fact, the problem seems more deep rooted than that. In an age of multicultural societies, blurring national identity, and modern technological advancements, our political system feels terribly outdated; unable to keep up with society’s fast moving best interests. This is especially true of our ageing population. So where does that leave us? The argument stands that the older generation are perhaps the most out of touch with modern working society’s needs and desires, and therefore unequipped to make a choice about those issues in particular. So, should we take their vote away?

The elderly will not have to live with the consequences of their vote as long as young people. This is especially pertinent to the Brexit vote, whose consequences young people will be experiencing 60 years down the line. Sad as it may be, it is still the case that much of the UK’s older population will not live to see the long-term consequences of their vote. Older people are more likely to vote solely in their own interests, whereas young people vote with a wider perspective, as pensions and healthcare will eventually affect them further down the line. Older people have no reason to vote with education or the working sector in mind because, for the most part, these policies will not ever affect them directly.

So why are the elderly able to vote on issues that will not affect them? This goes back to our outdated political system, trying and failing to interact with out multi-layered, multicultural and multi-faceted lives. It just can’t keep up anymore.

Record numbers of people are living in poverty, relying on food banks, and homelessness is on the rise. The UK’s political system does not serve the population as it should. The vote share is weighted heavily towards the elderly, and it is not because young people are not interested. We need to try something new. Japan has been investigating a weighted voting system, where the voters who will be impacted the most have the most weight to their vote. This seems, on the surface at least, to be a far more productive way of voting in general.

It would mean more referendums regarding issues pertinent to each age demographic: pensions, education, healthcare and taxes. But having a more meaningful vote about the policies that affect you the most appears to be a better way of having your voice heard compared to the current system.

While this thought experiment is investigated further, it seems as if voting, unfair as it may be, will continue on in its current form. For now, we can hope that our family (especially our grandparents) vote with modern society in mind, and our friends vote honestly, or even, just vote at all.

Against – Mia Morgalla 

In the wake of the polarising December election and the never-ending Brexit debate has arisen the discussion about the power and influence of older voters on politics. While the youth are struggling to encourage each other to engage, the over 60s are consistently going out and voting.

However, the overall political preferences of these two groups clash, with the older generation expressing more conservative views than the young. As it is the youth who are forced to live with the long-term consequences of voting outcomes, many have discussed the idea of an upper voting age limit. But is the solution to our political chaos really voter suppression?

The overwhelming reason to maintain universal suffrage regardless of age, is that policy affects the elderly as well. MPs decide pensions, health care and funding for state nursing homes, therefore establishing an upper voting limit would block older generations from voting on issues that affect them. While younger generations will vote with these topics in mind too, it is unfair to expect older generations to sit out on voting for issues that still concern them. Pensions and geriatric health care could be transformed by the time the youngest voters reach that point, whereas the current older generation must deal with what exists right now.

Older voters are often stereotyped as having significantly more wealth than Millennials and Generation Z, which helps fuel their less-progressive perspectives. While there is truth in this, it is not entirely universal. As of September 2019, 2 million pensioners (16%) live in relative poverty. From 2013-2017, single female pensioners (12%) and single male pensioners (11%) made up 23% of people in poverty, only one per cent lower than the percentage of single parents in poverty. Implementing a voting age limit would silence their voices and force them to entrust others to vote on their behalf.

All limitations (theoretical or otherwise) placed on voting — with perhaps the exception of a minimum voting age — put the onus on the individual to be fit to vote rather than on society to assure people are educated enough to vote, and aware of how policy affects them. Political education should be enforced more effectively; MPs should receive penalties for spreading misinformation, as should news outlets.

Access to political education should not end at high school level; the nature of current politics is one that is rapidly changing. While there is no justification for holding prejudiced views, it is undeniable that mainstream social change has come quickly, and social media plays a strong role in that. Social media activism has become an influential form of activism. Even on a less organised level, people are increasingly gaining their political knowledge from what is shared online. As social media increasingly becomes a meaningful part of politics and activism, we must be aware of its limitations; older generations are less likely to use social media and are therefore somewhat excluded from a large part of our current political climate.

It is just as much the responsibility of social media activists (particularly those who earn income from their content or have a large following) to realise how limiting their platform is and expand where possible, as it is the responsibility of voters to seek out as much information as they can find to inform their vote.

Undoubtedly there are countless flaws with how voters engage and are represented, that need to be solved as soon as possible so that the youth are represented in Parliament.
However, there are many approaches that have yet to be tried and exhausted before we consider taking away voting rights from an entire generation.

Image: Brylie Christopher Oxley via Wikimedia Commons