Voting age for children and youth

The Ger­man con­sti­tu­tion stip­u­lates that all pow­er emanates from its cit­i­zens. The imme­di­ate pos­si­bil­i­ty to exer­cise such pow­er, are elec­tions. How­ev­er, in Ger­many, the vot­ing age for fed­er­al elec­tions as well as most state leg­is­la­ture elec­tions and many munic­i­pal elec­tions is 18 years. Hence, an esti­mat­ed 2 mil­lion chil­dren and young peo­ple, who wish to vote, may not vote until they are 18 years old. That means that a sig­nif­i­cant part of the Ger­man pop­u­la­tion is exempt from the right to vote and is there­fore not allowed to exer­cise its most impor­tant fun­da­men­tal polit­i­cal right.

How­ev­er, chil­dren and ado­les­cents do have some­thing to say and should there­fore have a right to par­tic­i­pate at the bal­lot box. After all, the elect­ed insti­tu­tions pass laws that which will sig­nif­i­cant­ly impact the lives of the cur­rent youth beyond the leg­isla­tive peri­od. A reduc­tion in the vot­ing age is expect­ed to strength­en gen­er­a­tional poli­cies, because:

  • As the impor­tance of the tar­get group of young vot­ers increas­es, the top­ics also shift. Old­er cit­i­zens pur­sue dif­fer­ent socio-polit­i­cal pref­er­ences than younger cit­i­zens, as sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies have shown.
  • Old­er peo­ple, espe­cial­ly if they have no chil­dren, are much less like­ly to sup­port an increase in child ben­e­fit, tax relief for par­ents or pub­lic child care. For exam­ple, a 65-year-old is 85% less like­ly to sup­port an increase in child ben­e­fit than a 20-year-old, and 50% less like­ly to sup­port more flex­i­ble work­ing hours for par­ents. At the same time, old­er peo­ple are increas­ing­ly in favour of a pen­sion pol­i­cy that bur­dens the younger gen­er­a­tion. There are also good rea­sons to believe that cli­mate, envi­ron­men­tal and nature pro­tec­tion, edu­ca­tion and train­ing, media, cul­tur­al and net­work poli­cies would gain weight and be more in line with young people’s views.
  • Fur­ther­more, the grant­i­ng of the right to vote is a sig­nal to young peo­ple that they are tak­en seri­ous­ly and want to par­tic­i­pate in the com­mu­ni­ty. These diver­gent pol­i­cy pref­er­ences are all the more impor­tant the more the Ger­man pop­u­la­tion under­goes demo­graph­ic age­ing.

 

We want to vote!”

Chil­dren and young peo­ple did not have a vote in the 2013 fed­er­al elec­tions either. Mil­lions of peo­ple in Ger­many are exclud­ed from vot­ing rights- sim­ply because they are under 18 years of age. Because this vio­lates the prin­ci­ples of democ­ra­cy and pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty, the FRFG, togeth­er with chil­dren and young peo­ple, launched the ini­tia­tive “We want to vote!”.

In 2014, 15 chil­dren and young peo­ple aged between 10 and 17 filed a com­plaint with the Fed­er­al Con­sti­tu­tion­al Court to abol­ish the min­i­mum vot­ing age in order to strength­en democ­ra­cy and inter­gen­er­a­tional jus­tice. They were sup­port­ed by the FRFG and the children’s ini­tia­tive Plant-for-the-Plan­et. The com­plaint was legal­ly accom­pa­nied by the lawyer Prof. Michael Quaas.
The objec­tion was reject­ed by the Bun­destag on May 8, 2014. Sub­se­quent­ly, the FRFG filed an appeal with the Fed­er­al Con­sti­tu­tion­al Court in 2014.
On the occa­sion of the sub­mis­sion of the con­sti­tu­tion­al com­plaint, a press con­fer­ence was held in Berlin on 15 July 2014 at which SRzG spokesper­sons Wolf­gang Gründinger, Renate Schmidt (for­mer Fed­er­al Min­is­ter for Fam­i­ly Affairs), Jens Spahn (CDU mem­ber of the Bun­destag), Felix Finkbein­er (co-plain­tiff; Plant-for-the-Plan­et) and Dr. Lore Maria Peschel-Gutzeit (for­mer Sen­a­tor for Jus­tice) answered the jour­nal­ists’ ques­tions.

After long delib­er­a­tions, the judges dis­missed the appeal in April 2016.
FRFG will there­fore con­tin­ue its efforts to reduce the vot­ing age in the run-up to the 2021 fed­er­al elec­tions and beyond.