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Voting age

Published Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Under current legislation, a person must be 18 or over to vote in elections to the UK Parliament. This Note gives details of calls for a change in the law to reduce the voting age to 16 in recent years.

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There are two distinct franchises, the Parliamentary franchise and the local government franchise. There are also separate electoral registers for each franchise but in practice they are maintained, as far as is practicable, as a single register.

The Parliamentary franchise, the entitlement to vote in UK Parliamentary elections, is reserved to the UK Government. At the moment you must be 18 years of age on polling day and appear on the electoral register to vote in a UK Parliamentary election.

The local government franchise, the entitlement to vote in local elections, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland currently states you must be 18 years of age on polling day in order to vote and appear on the electoral register for local government elections. This includes elections for mayors and police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales.

The local government franchise has been devolved to Scotland since 2015. In Scotland, voters in elections using the local government franchise must be 16 years of age on polling day and appear on the electoral register for local government elections. This includes elections to the Scottish Parliament, which use the local government franchise.

The Wales Act 2017 received Royal Assent on 31 January 2017 and gives the NAW and the Welsh government legislative competence for the administration of Assembly and local government elections in Wales, including the franchise for those elections. These powers are expected to be transferred in 2018. The Welsh Government supports the lowering of the voting age for local government elections and the National Assembly has appointed an Expert Panel on Electoral Reform to consider options for elections to the Assembly.

Northern Ireland does not have legislative competence for lowering the voting age. The franchise for local elections in Northern Ireland is an excepted measure, which means it would only be devolved by primary legislation at Westminster. In 2012, a motion in support of lowering the voting age debated in the Northern Ireland Assembly received cross party support. Only the DUP voted against the motion.

The Labour Party, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party all support voting at 16. The Liberal Democrats have had a commitment to lower the voting age in their general election manifestos since 2001.

Historically the Conservative Party has generally opposed reducing the voting age but recently the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, announced that she supported lowering the voting age.

 

Commons Briefing papers SN01747

Authors: Neil Johnston; Noel Dempsey

Topics: Elections, Electoral franchise

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