I commend Senators Warfield and Ruane on this great legislation and I welcome all the young people here today. Robust voter participation is fundamental to a healthy democracy and 16 and 17 year olds voting would increase voter engagement across the entire electorate. There are a few reasons the voting age should be lowered to 16. First, 16 year olds voting build lifelong voters. Second, 16 year old voting will increase voter turnout over the long term. Third, 16 and 17 year olds are prepared to and deserve to vote. Research in the USA has found that, in practical assessments, 16 year olds function at about the same level on cognitive, moral and legal reasoning tests as adults and these are the very qualities needed to evaluate candidates and issues.
At 16, people are still at school in their own areas and not at college or work so they can discuss issues affecting their communities from personal experience. Political discussions at school would be more relevant as young people would feel they would have a say in legislation that affects them. Democracy is precious and it is important that all eligible voters participate. At 16, young people could be encouraged and assisted to register to vote as most are still at school. Students may actually be more frequent and thoughtful voters because they have the space in school and at home to engage in discussion about civic issues. Many 16 year olds are living at home and this could help to involve parents, teachers and community members in the process of learning to vote. There could be a trickle-up effect that translates to larger voter turnout among older family members across the entire electorate.
The evidence is clear from European countries that have extended suffrage to teenagers that voters who start earlier in life will vote longer and more consistently over their lives. In June 2015 the Scottish Parliament officially extended its franchise to 16 and 17 year olds after a remarkable 75% of that age group turned out to vote in the 2014 Scotland independence referendum. In 2007 Austria lowered its voting age to 16 and from 2004 to 2008, the first year in which students voted, young people's interest in politics jumped by approximately 23%. People aged 16 and 17 have some form of voting rights in countries such as Germany, Norway, Argentina and Brazil.
The earlier we engage young people in democracy and politics the greater the chance that we will promote and sustain a lifelong interest in and commitment to voting and participation in the democratic process. The introduction of a new subject, politics and society, at senior cycle level in September 2016 is to be welcomed as it is important that young people are taught about democracy and their duty to participate. The extension of the right to vote, alongside the introduction of this subject, will help young people not only to learn about participation in the electoral system but to experience it through voting. I support my colleagues, 100%, with this legislation.