Votes at 16 in Scotland

Oct 11, 2012

It's starting to look very much like the voting franchise will be extended in Scotland for the independence referendum to include sixteen and seventeen year-olds. I've written before on the Votes at 16 argument (shorter version: most argument for it are unsatisfying, interesting approach might be graduated and fractional voting rights far below 16) but while I'm posting abandoned avenues from my dissertation I thought it was worth including the section I wrote on the idea of expanding the franchise for referendums, before giving up on that side of the project because it seemed a bit unlikely:

Another possible consideration for referendums not mentioned in the Electoral Commission report is if it’s intended for the referendum electorate to be different (larger or smaller) from that of the normal electorate.

For example, expanding the franchise to include those 16 and 17 year-olds is something under active consideration (but probably doubtful) for the Scottish independence referendum and a former civil servant indicated at the Constitution Unit talk on Scottish Independence that similar measures were considered (but ultimately rejected) in terms of expanding the electorate were made for the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum (in that case to holidaymakers and those abroad).

When asked by the Scottish Affairs Committee on how long the process of preparing for an expanded electorate would take Andrew Scallan (Director of Electoral Administration at The Electoral Commission) spent a long time not wanting to give a precise answer as to how long the process of expanding the registers would take (more than a week, less than a year) but did suggest the best scenario would be legislation in the summer followed by a household canvas in the Autumn and at other times of year the process might be more difficult/result in a less complete register.

In terms of otherwise unexplored issues of referendum time, this could be interesting but involves quite an expansion of scope into discussion of electoral registers (especially in terms of the pending switchover to individual electoral registration) for what is likely to remain a hypothetical situation.

So opps on that, but practical considerations still interesting. This might also affect future UK referendums because it diminishes the precedent of referendums only using existing electorates - so in future referendums we could have similar moves to try and include other un-able to vote groups. Should non-EU citizens vote in a UK referendum on leaving the EU?  Strangely that might not even be a hypothetical, as EU citizens are part of the Holyrood electorate they should be able to vote in this one - and whether the new Scotland would automatically be an EU member is still up for debate.

Also something I hadn't picked up on before is that this isn't the only movement on the subject in Scotland, since last year the crofting elections franchise extends to 16 year olds.

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