Debate on voting age goes back to council

The question on whether Cornwall Council should press the government to lower the voting age to 16 for next year’s elections will go back to the full council.

The council’s constitution and governance committee discussed the issue this week but could not agree on a recommendation about whether the council should press ahead to make the change.

Liberal Democrat councillor Malcolm Brown had put forward a motion to full council last year calling for the change in time for elections in May 2021.

This will be the next time that elections will be held for Cornwall Council.

Cllr Brown suggested that lowering the voting age, which would require a change in legislation, should be pushed by the council or asking the government to use Cornwall as a pilot area.

Local elections in Scotland and Wales have already been changed to lower the voting age to 16 and Cllr Brown believes Cornwall should follow suit.

He said earlier this week that the campaigns run by young people in support of climate change action and Black Lives Matter showed that they should be given the opportunity to have their say.

He told the committee meeting: “The Friday demonstrations by schoolchildren outside County Hall campaigning for climate change emergency action by Cornwall Council – the young today are very interested in politics and very interested in political issues.

“They should be encouraged to give their views. The Black Lives Matter campaigns in America and Great Britain – it is young people again that are leading the way. You can argue about the methods that have been followed but there is a really strong social conscience.”

Alexander Polak, head of councillor support and democratic process at Cornwall Council, told the committee that the elections in May 2021 could be difficult to implement any change.

He said that as well as the Cornwall Council elections set to be carried out under new boundaries due to the change in council size from 123 members to 87 there were a number of other polls planned.

These include parish and town council elections across Cornwall and election of a Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall.

It was also expected that there will be referendums for a number of neighbourhood development plans which had been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Cllr Brown said that despite these obstacles he wanted the council to press ahead with getting the voting age lowered for May 2021.

However Conservative members of the constitution and governance committee were not in favour of the move.

Councillor Linda Taylor, also Tory group leader, said that she could not support the proposals.

She said that while she saw a need to engage different groups in local politics and decisions she felt that lowering the voting age was too far.

Cllr Taylor said that her main concern was that while anyone over 18 is recognised as an adult by law, anyone under that age is not.

She said: “Anyone under the age of 18 has greater protection under the law, they are treated differently. It could open up a whole raft of other serious implications that may not have been thought through.”

Fellow Conservative councillor Tom French also said that he did not agree with the proposal.

He said that while young people were “far more interested in what is going on” he did not believe in lowering the age of voting.

Cllr French said that his concerns were based on his 30 years in the military and said: “You could have 16-year-olds voting for a campaign when they would not have to go.”

He admitted it was a “small point” but said that there were probably better ways in which to engage with young people than giving them the vote.

Conservative councillor Kevin Towill said that the council should not take any further action on the issue.

His proposal was lost with four votes in favour and five against.

Cllr Brown had initially called for the committee to recommend that the council press ahead with lobbying the government to lower the voting age.

However, during the debate, he said he could “see where this is going” and instead called for the issue to go back to the full council for discussion.

That proposal was supported with five in favour and four against.