Patricia Lane introduces us to student activist Nahira Gerster-Sim, 17, who is part of a campaign to give youth aged 16 and up the right to vote.

I’m a bit iffy with this. With driving, it’s become a necessity because of how we built our cities. If our cities were more people friendly it wouldn’t be such a big deal.

Also, you’re learning how to drive at 16. Using a skill is practice and with driving there are risks, but there aren’t great ways around it. As for voting, they do have a much bigger effect. And children usually, though not even close to always, vote the same way with their parents.

I don’t want to reduce the thinking capacity of teenagers. I think that for an argument in favour of decreasing the voting age should be based on a better foundation.

The human brain is fully developed by around age 25, but the voting age is 18. I’m not familiar with the case here in Canada, but like a lot of Canadians, I know why the Americans have it at 18; it was because the draft was at 18 and since they didn’t want to reduce the body count for the war they decided to just decrease the voting age from 21 to 18 instead. From that experience, it seems as though that the bodies of young people are worth more what ever power they yield with the vote. 🤔

I am in favour of having the voting age reduced below 25 because even though one’s brain is fully developed at that age, one should have control of the environment they live in by the time they reach that age so that they may exercise their abilities in an environment they had a voice in building.

The age that people should be given that voice is a separate question. 25 - 4 years is 21, so I see that. I’m less certain about having it lower than that. I haven’t seen good reasons for it.

For referendums, I could definitely see that since it is a once in a lifetime thing.


You make some valid points, but my perspective somewhat differs. I’m not sure we understand the significance of “fully developed brain” in this case. For example, would you advocate that there must be an IQ threshold required for voting? I understand IQ is narrow and limited test, just the way that a drivers license is a limited analogy for voting competence. It’s just one example. What tests would you suggest require being passed? What about adults with various cognitive impairments?

Then there is also the issue of there being a fairly wide range of development levels in individual teens. Some seem to mature much sooner than others. Currently we seem to try to pick some sort of average which may be weighted a little on the cautious side. (I have a family member turning 16 in a few weeks – this isn’t abstract to me – I know how very young she is, in so many ways.)

My personal bottom line argument is probably not going to impress you though, as it’s not based on brain development or any other technical condition. I think simply that if they want to vote they should be able to vote. Most adults vote for stupid reasons, I don’t think kids would do much worse. And it would have the virtue of potentially engaging some of them in society sooner. Of course a lot will just be compelled by their family’s views; and a few might vote simply to spite their family. This is nothing new.

Once upon a time, shockingly recently in our culture, women were said not to be mentally developed enough to vote. Scientific arguments were made in this regards. Obviously not exactly the same situation, but if I’m making a mistake I’d rather make a mistake on the side of personal volition. If women want to vote, they should be able to vote, regardless of what the science says (said) about their smaller brain sizes, their limited domestic understanding of the world, their easily manipulated maternal instincts. Ditto for kids.

Yeah I understand what I’ve expressed is a little simplistic, lacking in consideration of various details. But the details could be hammered out later. I’m just interested in the principle for now. Actually my passing interest is almost worn out. Maybe ADHD should exclude me from voting. Which makes me wonder: do we have any stats on how many people vote drunk? Maybe breathalizers should be installed in voting booths.

On the other hand, now that you’ve made me think about it, the legal age to drive clearly should be raised to at least 29. Driving is (usually) a lot more dangerous than voting. And I don’t want non-fully developed brains hurtling around in massive steal objects! So, I say 25 + 4 is 29. You gave me the good idea of the +4. Thanks! 25 to let their brain fully develop, and then 4 years buffer for them to ease in to their awesome fully developed cognitive powers.

Anyhow, isn’t every vote a referendum of sorts?


Thanks for writing a substantive and humorous reply.

A few things to clarify: The 4 years comes from the American context where most elections take place every 4 years. In Canada with amendments to the Canada Elections Act Parliament can sit up to 5 years. So I guess we should do calculations with 5 instead?

Also, the reason it was a minus and not a plus is because you’re not “getting used to a developed brain” but rather be given the opportunity to influence the world you’ll be in by the time you’re that age.

Driving is a skill, and like any skill it’s best to learn it while young; kind of like riding a bike except with a 2 tonne metal object. Voting, while should be taken seriously, is not a skill in the same way. So that’s my distinction.

I get what you’re saying about every election being a referendum, but I was mainly thinking about referendum questions such as Quebec/Scotland/Catalonia independence and European Union membership, stuff like that.

Now on to the rest. I like how you brought up a bunch of important things such as scientific discrimination/racism, and it’s very much a warranted fear. I would stand clear of any individual testing. Furthermore, I think the number was made over a large population and as such is an average of sorts. I’d rather take it from there to have some level of abstraction and not get too personal. You’re probably right with the different levels of maturity found among any age group, but again I’d rather rely on averages. It is also important to be careful because as you noted science has been used to discriminate against people we now find abhorrent. To be honest the rationale for excluding potential younger voters is based in the same traditions. The only real thing I can say is that the “development” is compared to an abstract “full development” based on averages.

The thing I’m most interested is setting the custom. By having high school students participate in elections it more likely will set up the habit of voting that currently is. My only counter would be that a national holiday would be more effective at this.

I like your comments and hope you provide more insight into my position. Sorry for my response not being as funny as yours.

What’s going on in Canada?


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