Calls to change the voting system to make it more democratic and allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote have been rejected by Cornwall Council.

A motion titled Make Votes Matter went before a meeting of full council on Wednesday.

It was proposed by Liberal Democrat councillor Colin Martin and seconded by Independent councillor Jim McKenna. The motion called for the council to oppose the use of the existing First Past The Post (FPTP) system for voting and to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote.

In a long, and at times heated, debate in the council chamber at New County Hall councillors clashed with opposing views about the issue. Cllr Martin said that it was time to consider a new system for voting to ensure that people’s votes are represented clearly.

He highlighted that when the Conservatives took control of the council last May they did so having secured less than 38% of the votes cast. Similarly in the 2019 General Election the Conservatives won all six seats in Cornwall despite taking less than 50% of the votes.

Cllr Martin then pointed out that in 86 of the 87 votes held last year for Cornwall Council seats more eligible people decided not to vote than those who that did. Just Julian German’s seat in the Roseland saw a majority of people turning out to vote.

The Lib Dem councillor said that it was argued that FPTP should remain in place as it is considered to be a “simple” system and he attracted scorn from Conservative councillors when he added: “One look at the people Boris Johnson has put in his Cabinet doesn’t mean that being simple is suitable for the job.”

He then argued that FPTP is not simple as many people are unable to make a clear choice, stating that instead of voting for who they wanted to win they would vote for the least worst option.

Conservative councillor Tara Sherfield-Wong, one of the youngest members in the chamber, spoke out against dropping the age for voting. She claimed that “politics is not on the minds of most teens”.

She added: “Many in this age bracket are informed about politics by social media, which has a lot of fake news and is not a reliable news course.” And she said that rather than lowering the voting age it would be better to raise it higher.

Independent councillor Paul Wills suggested that there was a political motive to the motion stating: “When the county was all orange there was nothing wrong with the system of first past the post. But when it shifts the other way they say ‘let’s get our kids to vote as well, we can win then’.”

He said that young people did not need the “extra burden” of deciding who to vote for and that it should remain in place for when they “come of age at 18”.

Mebyon Kernow councillor Loveday Jenkin said that she was disappointed and upset by the disrespect which had been shown by some councillors in stating that young people did not have the intelligence to vote and said that the issue was “about democracy and the right of the individual to have their voice heard”.

She said: “I utterly resent the comments about young people not being individuals. I may not be a young person anymore but to tell me that 16 and 17-year-olds know nothing about politics is complete and utter rubbish.”

And she added: “We are not here to continue to pass on our old views to people, we are here to enable every person in Cornwall to have their voices heard and, at the moment, young people’s voices are not being heard. That really upsets me.”

Independent councillor Mike Thomas, a former secondary school teacher, said that during his career he had met many young people who were well informed about politics – he said that in Year 7 there would be one or two interested in politics but by Year 11 “there was a real core who had incredibly strong views and wanted to communicate them”.

He said he did not understand why councillors were “fearful” of lowering the voting age and said that councillors had spoken about young people favourably in the past. He then admitted that if 16 and 17-year-olds were able to vote he might not have been elected but he still wanted them to have the opportunity to have a say on their future.

Conservative Cabinet member Richard Pears spoke against the motion and said that FPTP was the “best system we could possibly have”, adding that while he knew 16-year-olds “with far better heads on their shoulders than 60-year-olds” he did not agree with lowering the voting age.

He said: “Under the age of 18 in this country you are considered to be a minor and need parental permission for certain activities. You can’t drink unsupervised, you can’t watch scary movies and you can’t vote.

“I can’t believe that we should consider them able to make decisions about the future of our country while we consider them too immature to watch Borat or Beverly Hills Cop.” (Although it should be noted that both films are actually rated a 15 by the BBFC).

When put to the vote the council voted against the motion with 29 votes in favour and 41 against.