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Brexit Proves Baby Boomers Should Get Less of a Vote

Political scientist Heath Pickering argues for a voting system based on how long you'll have to live with the consequences of political decisions.

by Heath Pickering
27 June 2016, 12:00am

https://news.vice.com/video/millennials-blame-older-generations-for-brexit-but-whose-fault-is-it-really

The democratic principle of "one person, one vote" is fundamentally flawed. The way Baby Boomers and beyond are voting the world over is evidence that old solutions often aren't adept at tackling new problems. Old people keep gutting the future of young people. And it has to stop.

In Australia, the old politicians that hold political power and old voters, who hold the demographic advantage over young voters, skew the system to their favour. Generous government policies disproportionately advantage Baby Boomers, allowing them to boost their superannuation accounts and purchase investment properties through taxpayer-funded subsidies.

The young, by contrast, are burdened with ballooning costs of university tuition, exorbitant house prices, pathetically underfunded internship programs, and a job market that is continually eradicating full-time work.

The recent Brexit result proves that intergenerational inequality is rife. A YouGov poll found the majority of young voters wanted Britain to stay in the European Union. This is because education and employment opportunities across an entire continent are much better than in lonely Britain. However, they were outnumbered.

The Leave campaign didn't have a massive win either. The vote only narrowly passed, 52 percent to 48 percent who wanted to stay in. A day later, an online petition to Parliament calling for a second referendum amassed more than 2.6 million signatures—the site crashing because of how many people were trying to sign. Clearly, Britain is divided.

Interestingly, the Vote Leave team may not have won if 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote. And that group has been able to before. Take the 2014 Scottish Referendum, when Scotland almost broke away from Britain—16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote for the first time.

When young people talk about intergenerational injustice, we're often accused of complaining about the situation without offering solutions. So here's my solution: To ensure the youth aren't shafted, a citizen's vote should be proportionate to their age.

Let's break down how this would work in the upcoming Australian election. There are more than 15 million voters on the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) roll. And the AEC lists 13 different age groups, which would make things too complicated. In my view, age-weighted voting would work best if voters are broken down to five key age groups.

Under my age-weighted proposal, anyone 18-24 years old would receive one whole vote. For each following age group, this would decrease by a fifth. So someone aged 35-49 years old would get 60 percent of one vote. Anyone over 70 would get 20 percent of one vote.

If this system was implemented, young people would be more fairly represented—under the logic that because they have to live with the consequences of political decisions the longest; they should have a greater say than older voters. In Australia, age-weighted voting would mean under 35s would control 43 percent of the vote, in contrast to the 27 percent they currently hold. The sway of the middle aged would stay roughly the same at 28 percent.

The big kicker is to the Baby Boomer and beyond group, whose currently hold 47 percent control. Their percentage of the vote would decline to a more appropriate 29 percent.

The effect of this scheme would be powerful. Political parties would be forced to develop policies that actually consider the future, not kick the can down the road. Imagine a government that doesn't smother young people with debt, one that actually acts on climate change, and brings Australia's internet access in line with other world leaders.

It would also empower young people to take greater leadership in Australia's future. Even if you don't give a shit about voting, the fact remains that elections are the most powerful way to influence government policy.

In reality, there's no chance age-weighting voting will happen anytime soon. This scheme hasn't been tried anywhere in the world, and there's no mass movement calling for electoral reform to improve youth representation in Parliament. But that's not the point.

We need innovative ideas to shake up the system. We need voices to highlight intergenerational inequality. We need to stop just accepting the crap that we're given.

Heath Pickering is a research assistant at the Melbourne School of Government, University of Melbourne.You can follow Heath on Twitter

Tagged:
Brexit
Millennials
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generational divides
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war on young people