Votes at 16

Votes at 16

Sign the petition today!

You maybe knew that Welsh and Scottish 16 and 17 year olds get to vote in local and Parliamentary elections. Did you know that many other countries around the world have also given young people the vote? From Brazil to Austria, Ecuador to Jersey - increasing numbers of countries are recognising that young people have the maturity and capacity to make informed choices in elections.

Politics in Action want to see the rights that Scottish and Welsh young people have extended to Northern Ireland. We would also like to see the Irish Government reduce the voting age, as recommended in 2017 by their Citizen's Assembly. Not only will this help increase young people's interest in politics - it will also mean that politicians across the island need to take young people, and the issues they face, more seriously.

To make votes at 16 a reality, both Westminster and Stormont legislation must be amended. Firstly, the Representation of the People Act 1983 must be amended, as was the case in Scotland and Wales. Secondly, the Northern Ireland Act 1998 must be amended to include exceptions to reduce the voting age to 16.  

We want to see the right to vote at 16 accompanied by high quality political education in our schools - and programmes like ours extended to more schools and youth work settings to help build young people's awareness and civic engagement.

The second and third episodes of our new podcast, Better Peace, are all about Votes at 16 in Scotland and Wales. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts!

Why lower the voting age to 16?

Portadown College student Sabrina Baptista recently did her work experience with us and conducted some research into the issue. Did you know that women only got the vote in the UK in 1928 (and only some women could vote before that date, based on their wealth)? Then, only men and women over the age of 21 could vote. The voting age in the UK was reduced to 18 in 1969. It's time to modernise our electoral system once again by lowering the voting age to 16 in Northern Ireland!

1) Young people are capable and engaged

The idea that 16 and 17 year olds lack the intelligence or critical thinking required to participate in electoral democracy has been debunked. When faced with situations that require unhurried, deliberate consideration – what is known as ‘cold cognition’ - 16 year olds demonstrate judgement as mature as that of adults. People use cold cognition in matters such as granting informed medical consent, standing trial in court ... and voting! In the weeks and months before an election, young people have time to use their cold cognition skills, gathering evidence and talking to their friends, family and peers before making an informed decision.

Young people have been at the forefront of political activism and campaigning at a global and local level – campaigning for climate action, better mental health services, relationship & sexuality education and much more. Our young people are already politically engaged and informed. It’s time they are given a democratic voice in electoral politics!

2) Young people can make up their own minds

In countries where they have the right to vote, 16 and 17 year olds don’t all vote the same way. Young people can and do make up their own minds on important social and political issues – just like voters of all ages!

It is true that in most European countries, young people tend to support left-leaning parties in higher numbers than adults. However, as more data emerges from countries where the voting age has been lowered, we learn more about the impacts on the wider political landscape – the results can be surprising!  

  • Support for centre-right parties amongst young voters at the last Austrian election was relatively high.  
  • Recent research found that adolescents in Germany tend to be slightly more undecided about political parties and slightly more often neutral towards policy issues.  
  • In the run-up to the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, over 40% of 16 and 17 year olds held a different view of independence than their parents.

3) Habits formed earlier are longer-lasting

We know that voter turnout among young people tends to be low. At age 18, many young people are leaving school and starting university or entering the world of work, sometimes moving out of the family home for the first time. Granting young people the right to vote at this transitional phase in life can dampen voter turnout for first-time voters. By contrast, lowering the voting age to 16 can have a positive impact on electoral participation.

Evidence from Scotland shows that when they are given the right to vote, 16 and 17 year olds turn out in even greater numbers than young people aged 18 to 24. This is because at the ages of 16 and 17, young people are more likely to live in environments with strong socialisation influences, like the family home and school. An earlier first-time voting experience, before the transitional phase of life begins around age 18, helps young people to learn the habit of voting, rather than abstention. These are the ideal conditions for forming positive and long-lasting habits!

4) Respect for fairness and equality

Young people aren't just citizens of the future – they're full and equal citizens now! 16 and 17 year olds can get married, work, pay taxes, care for loved ones. They use public services (health, education, transport, etc). They’re an active and valuable part of society – why shouldn’t they have a say in how things are governed?  

Young people in the UK and Ireland are experiencing a postcode lottery of voting rights. Extending franchise to 16 and 17 year olds would place young people here on a more equal footing with their peers in other countries, including Scotland and Wales, where young people can vote in local elections and in elections for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments from the age of 16.

5) Reduce political inequalities

Socially disadvantaged young people tend to show lower rates of political participation. This is true for England and Northern Ireland, where the voting age is 18. However, in Scotland, where 16 and 17 year olds can vote, researchers found that this traditional pattern of inequality in political participation by social class was significantly less pronounced among young people.  

When 16 and 17 year olds are granted the right to vote in Northern Ireland, it is vital that this is accompanied by plans to develop high-quality civic education. Deliberative political literacy education can help to mitigate inequalities in political knowledge, confidence and participation from the earliest possible stage. Schools and youth organisations have a crucial role to play in empowering, supporting and encouraging young people to engage with politics.  

Get involved!

Sign our petition

We are putting pressure on the Northern Irish political parties to commit to lowering the voting age! Allowing more young people to participate in electoral politics will transform our democracy for the better. Wales and Scotland involve and recognise how valuable young people's voices are in elections and it is time Northern Ireland follows suit. Following the General Election, we want the Northern Ireland Executive to write to Westminster - asking for the necessary powers to be devolved in order to legislate for Votes at 16. Help us convince them and sign the petition today!

Young people

We are recruiting a Campaign Group, made up of young people who will drive the movement for Votes at 16. Are you under 18 and interested in getting involved? Join the Campaign Group here!


If you would like to sign your organisation up as a campaign supporter, please contact for more information.  

We’re proud to have the support of the following groups and organisations:

  • Beat Carnival
  • Belfast YMCA
  • Catholic Guides of Ireland
  • Children in Northern Ireland
  • Children’s Law Centre
  • Climate Craic
  • Diverse Youth NI
  • Ecojustice Ireland
  • Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland
  • Girlguiding Ulster
  • Include Youth
  • Involve
  • Migrant Democracy Project
  • National Children's Bureau
  • Northern Ireland Youth Forum
  • Secondary Students’ Union of Northern Ireland
  • St Peter’s Immaculata Youth Club
  • Start360
  • Voicing the Void

The proposal to lower the voting age to 16 generates great interest and debate amongst young people. Please contact us if you work with young people and would like us to facilitate discussion and debates about votes at 16!

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