Vote of Confidence: Voting for the Ages

This past Tuesday, a bill was submitted to the DC Council that would lower the District’s voting age in all elections to 16.  If passed, the bill would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in everything from local to federal contests.  With Congress having the final say on all legislation passed in DC, the bill will most likely not pass. The bill does, however, raise an important point about enfranchising some of our youngest voters and how mobile voting may be an inevitbalility.

In Takoma Park, MD, a suburb just north of D.C., 16 and 17-year-olds are allowed to vote in local and municipal elections.  In 2013, the first year these minors were able to participate, 44% of those registered came out to vote. For a national election, this turnout rate would be paltry, but for this election, which was to elect council members and mayor, only 11% of the rest of the adult population of Takoma Park turned out to vote.  The turnout discrepancy demonstrated a desire to participate in local government amongst local youth, one that is considerably larger than most adults.

Webroots Democracy (WB), a British think tank dedicated to mobile voting, recently published a study on the potential success of an online voting program in Scotland. Data in the report demonstrates how the youngest eligible voting block in the U.K., 18-24-year-olds, have a considerably lower turnout in the past five General Elections than the oldest block, those who are 65 years or older. The same study shows data that, for activities like banking and email, the percent of online engagement is nearly the inverse.  In the UK’s next general election, the youngest voters will have been born in 2004 and will have spent their entire lives gaining fluency in a newly minted mobile world. According to the British Office of National Statistics, 98% of British individuals ages 16-24 use the internet while on the go.

Pew Study from 2016 shows the discrepancies in internet use and smartphone ownership on a global scale, and the numbers are no less stark than in the UK.  In some of the world’s fastest-growing countries, like Nigeria and India, the difference in smartphone ownership and internet usage between those above and below the age of 34 years.

While none of these statistics are particularly shocking, they do speak to a considerable shift in the standards of communication in our changing world.  It also begs the question, how do governments harness youthful enthusiasm for politics in a pragmatic way? We have a nascent generation of adults who are interacting in a way that is completely different from what we were used to 20 years ago.  

Mobile voting is a simple, cost-effective solution that would allow a generation already literate in mobile technology to participate in the democratic process without dealing with the ideologically remote logistics of traditional polling places.  

If we are to engage the youth vote, the easiest way will be to offer them a method to cast their ballot in a medium with which they are already proficient.  The dissonance between our current technological standards and outdated voting methods will have a greater impact on our youth than the current, average voter.

No matter the outcome of DC’s proposed voting bill, its submission should serve as a portent of a new generation of voters who will have vastly different standards than we have today.

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