Election Universe

Lowering the voting age: a global trending topic?

Lowering the voting age: a global trending topic?
June 22 2015, 18:19

Nearly 90% of the world’s countries has set the minimum voting age at 18. However, according to some analysts “momentum is building around the world to lower the voting age to 16 years. Some nations have already made the shift, with voting in national or local elections occurring at age 16 in Austria, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, the Philippines, Argentina, Nicaragua, Brazil and Ecuador.”

Japan, for example, recently lowered the voting age to 18 from 20. The parliament passed a bill that will add 2.4 million potential voters for next year’s upper house election. The news followed a similar law approved last year, which allowed 18-year-olds to vote in 2018 for national referendums on the Constitution in this Asian country. 1945 was the last time Japan’s voting age was revised (lowering voting age to 20 from 25), and it was also when women were given the right to vote.

In the UK, the issue has been on debate for long, but with the possibility of the EU referendum approaching soon, it has made a significant comeback among MP’s debates. In Scotland, following the effective experiment of allowing 16-year-olds to vote in the referendum on Scottish independence, it is expected that the vote will soon be extended to them generally for elections to the Scottish Parliament. The National Assembly for Wales will also have powers over the voting age for the Welsh Assembly and the upcoming local government elections. 16- and 17-year-olds can also vote in the dependencies of the British Crown: the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands (Jersey and Guernsey); which are not part of the United Kingdom though.

According to The Electoral Reform Society “evidence from the Scottish independence referendum, substantiated by research from Austria and Norway, shows 16 and 17 year-olds have higher rates of turnout than 18 to 34 year-olds.” The Electoral Reform Society is a founding member of the Votes at 16 coalition, also supported by the SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Greens. Angus Robertson, the leader of the SNP, has written in the Guardian that SNP MPs will seek to amend the EU referendum bill, to ensure that young adults can take part. “It is their UK – and their Europe – so they must have their say; 16- and 17-year-olds can pay taxes, get married and join the armed forces, so it is only right and fair that they should also be entitled to vote,” Robertson said. While Harriet Harman, acting Labour leader, also asked Cameron for a lower voting age in the EU referendum, and told him: “It’s their future too.”  The UK prime minister, David Cameron, said he was not in favour of the proposal, but he was happy to allow MPs to vote on it.

In Australia, the subject has also been debated on and off. The Northern Territory, for example, has passed a law that permits 16- and 17-year-olds to vote on the election of a constitutional convention to debate a new constitution. Recently, Jodi McKay, a member for Strathfield, called for the New South Wales Parliament to “lead debate on changing the legal age of voting in NSW to 16 years of age”. McKay’s position is that, initially, they should be given the option of voting, rather than it being made compulsory.

In the US, two Maryland cities have successfully extended municipal voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds, and more than 15 states already allow 17 year olds to vote in primaries to nominate candidates for president, Congress, and governor. The National Youth Rights Association as well as other groups such as FairVote, support the idea of expanding suffrage to 16 and 17 year olds in municipal elections.  “All evidence suggests that cities will increase voter turnout by allowing citizens to cast their first vote after turning 16. The reason is simple. Many people at 16 and 17 have lived in their communities for years and are taking government classes in high school. That combination results in more people exercising their first chance to vote if they are 16 or 17 than if they are unable to vote until they have left home and school,” says FairVote.

A detailed study of voters’ ages and habits in Denmark found that 18 year olds were far more likely to cast their “first vote” than 19 year olds, and that every month of extra age in those years resulted in a decline in “first vote” turnout. FairVote suggests that allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote in local elections will enable them to vote before leaving home and high school, and establish a lifelong habit of voting.

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, The BBC

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