Disenfranchised 16

Anyone who is aged 17 on May 5 will not get the chance to cast a vote in an Assembly election until he or she has turned 22.

The next Assembly will last half a decade – the extra year has been added to prevent a clash with the 2015 Westminster election.

Campaigns to lower the voting age struggle to generate wild excitement among most of the electorate. The polling station is one of the few places where you are unlikely to find a hoodie-clad youth with multiple piercings gyrating to the tinny cacophony buzzing out of a mobile phone.

But there are good reasons why we should consider opening the doors to the great Welsh youth and encouraging them to pick up a pencil, mark an X and share in the treasures of democracy.

A lot can happen between the ages of 17 and 22. Very many young people will go to university, some may well go to war, a fair number will bring children into the world, and a considerable proportion will start paying taxes – a handful might even buy a property.

Their peers in Austria and Brazil already get the chance to vote at 16. And when tuition fees is one of the most emotive subjects it is possible to discuss, it does seem incongruous you could enter and complete your journey through the higher education system without having the chance to influence who becomes the Assembly Government minister responsible for this policy.

Even if there is little chance that Westminster will lower the voting age for its elections, there is a strong case that the Assembly should blaze a trail.

As a legislature, not only does it have one of the best gender balances on the planet (though that may no longer be the case in a few weeks), it also has a commendable range of ages.

Plaid’s Bethan Jenkins entered the Assembly at the age of 25 and until yesterday she sat across from 71-year-old former Labour leader Rhodri Morgan. Each contributed with gusto and just as Mr Morgan did not limited his backbench campaigns to topics relating to pensioners, Ms Jenkins cannot be accused of focusing on “yoof” issues.

Similarly, we should not expect young people who are going through an education system where the concept of citizenship is stressed at every opportunity to vote for the party that promises subsidised roller blades.

Confirmation and baptismal classes have been part of Wales’ spiritual heritage for generations, and it could be a glory of a young democracy if we dispatched the best-prepared young people in the western world towards the ballot box to vote for a better future.

A Thursday column