16-year-olds should get to vote in civic elections, Victoria councillors say

Residents as young as 16 and non-citizens who are permanent residents should be allowed to vote in civic elections, say Victoria councillors.

The councillors endorsed two resolutions Thursday to be forwarded to the Union of B.C. Municipalities and the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities calling on the province to make the changes.

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The call to allow residents as young as 16 to vote came from Coun. Ben Isitt. “I think with the climate emergency we’re really seeing youth come to the forefront,” Isitt said.

“I think young people are stepping up to lead in a way that older people like myself are not doing and so I think at a minimum extending the franchise to people age 16 and over is a very supportable step.”

Isitt said allowing younger voters would provide the direct benefit of cementing the practice of voting through the education system.

Coun. Marianne Alto called it “a fabulous idea” and “long overdue.” She said youths of 16 “understand completely what’s going on, have very strong opinions that are very well informed.”

Only Coun. Geoff Young voted against both initiatives. Young said both are reasonable topics for discussion, but the public should be consulted before council takes advocacy positions. “There’s a universal tendency for politicians to want to identify people who are likely to vote for them and then make sure that they can vote conveniently and easily,” he said in addressing the youth vote issue.

It has to be asked, Young said, that if someone can vote, then should they be able to sign a binding contract, have full control of an inheritance or bear full responsibility for a crime they might commit or should age be taken into account.

“I’m not opposed to this. I do think I would be more comfortable if this was something on which our citizens had weighed in,” Young said.

Mayor Lisa Helps strongly supported giving 16-year-olds the vote.

“I’m very, very supportive of this. I think if the province extends this, our cities will be better places across the province,” Helps said.

Coun Sharmarke Dubow, a former Somali refugee, brought forward the motion to allow permanent residents to vote.

“There are so many reasons why people don’t want to disown and decide which country they’d be loyal to,” Dubow said. “Because sometimes people have their families back home and if they disown their citizenship and maybe their mother is sick, maybe you might not be able to go.”

Coun. Laurel Collins, a co-sponsor of the resolution, called it is an opportunity engage more residents, to make the city more welcoming and to build trust in democratic institutions.

“Permanent residents are our neighbours, our friends, our community members and I hope that this council will support us in advocating for their ability to affect decisions at the municipal level.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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