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Franchise without Age Limits PDF Print E-mail

Until now, about one-fifth of the population in democratic countries (children and teenagers) have been excluded from the right to vote. A discussion on this issue seems to be of special importance since the interests of nonvoting minorities appear, if at all, only marginally in the considerations of politicians who seek (re-)election. The question of whether these so-called ‘lost votes’ can be activated (through the lowering of the voting age) is therefore intergenerationally relevant.

Proposals to alter the legal voting age are often dismissed as unrealistic, yet a political discussion about the possibility of change has been underway for some years already. In 2003 for example, the German Bundestag discussed a motion entitled “Dare more democracy by introducing a voting right by birth”. Moreover, in 2007, Austria became the first EU nation-state to legally lower the age at which citizens can vote to 16, thus making a step in the right direction. Other European countries intend to follow the Austrian example.

FRFG promotes the right to vote for youth through the registration of younger voters

Our position is that children and teenagers who would like to vote should be enabled to do so by choosing for themselves a point in time at which this fundamental right will be granted to them on an individual basis. Under-18s would be able to personally register for entry onto the electoral register in their respective constituency.  To do so, they would sign a printed form, which would state the following: “I would like to participate in the electoral process through voting.” The signed form would act as a declaration and not an application, since an application can be rejected. The will of young people to carry out this process would confirm their interest in real political participation. At the same time, it would give young people a real voice alongside over-18s in the political process, and their participation would further stimulate interest in political issues amongst young people.

In addition to this step, we suggest that a general voting age (the age at which a citizen can automatically vote through a voting card being sent to his/her home address) should remain in place. FRFG proposes that this age should be 16. We suggest that minors that reach this general voting age are not left to participate in postal voting. In this way, the voice of youth (not of their parents) is heard. Of course, there is the risk that the young will be influenced by their parents and/or friends. Nevertheless, we suggest that this undue influence is already widespread amongst those who already have the right to vote, especially amongst politically disinterested and ill-informed voters. The argument therefore cannot be legitimately applied to only young people.

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