So far, around one fifth of the German population — children and young people under 18 years of age — are excluded from political participation in decision-making. But the interests of non-voice parties concerning national debt, pension or environmental policy mostly do not appear in the calculations of the politician who organizes his or her (re)election. However, considering that today’s decisions will affect under-18-year olds for decades to come, the question of whether these “lost votes” can be activated and thus give the next generations more weight in the political decision-making process is gaining relevance.
Hence, a right to vote irrespective of age is urgently required, because at present all people under the age of 18 are excluded from universal and equal voting rights on a flat-rate basis and solely on account of their age. This violates the sovereignty of the people. With regard to intergenerational justice, democratic co-determination of the younger generation is urgently desirable, especially as a corrective for the demographic ageing of society.
The terms “right to vote without age limit” or “right to vote from birth” are often misunderstood to mean that preschoolers or even babies should be urged to vote. However, this is not the underlying intention, as it is undisputed that toddlers cannot vote. Rather, young people should be given the right to vote as soon as they can and want to exercise it independently. Therefore, the use of the term in the context of the debate on parental suffrage is misleading.
The FRFG demands the right to vote by registration. This means that young people and children who wish to exercise their right to vote will also be able to do so from a point in time of their choice. They can make the decision known below a continued regular age limit by means of a personal entry in the electoral register. It is conceivable that postal voting will be prohibited below the regular age limit in order to guarantee personal electoral practice.
The moderate reduction of the voting age to 16 years at all levels, as it exists in Austria, Malta and several German states is a first step towards a further reduction.
Arguments against the right to vote for children refuted
Most of the concerns raised against the right to vote without an age limit do not stand up to critical scrutiny:
Maturity and political interest
Categories such as political discernment and maturity, knowledge or political interest are not legitimate criteria for the granting of electoral rights, since they conflict with the imperatives of universal and equal suffrage. Moreover, they are not a prerequisite for older citizens either. Nevertheless, many young people already have all cognitive abilities, a stable intellectual basis and sufficient social and moral judgement to be able to make a conscious choice before they are 16 years old. A large proportion of the young people are also politically interested, but do not feel addressed by the policy-making process.
A generally increased tendency towards extremist parties or “fun parties” cannot be observed among young people.
A high voter turnout cannot be made a condition for the right to vote. Nevertheless, the turnout of first-time voters — whether 16, 18 or 20 years old — tends to be lower than the overall social average, but higher than in some other age groups.
Influence and manipulation
There is no empirical evidence of their parents exerting an unreasonable influence on the electoral decisions of younger voters. Young people start to leave their parents’ home at the age of 12 to 13, while the influence of friends and acquaintances of the same age is increasing.
Other age limits
The continued existence of other age limits, such as majority or criminal/civil age, does not preclude a reduction in the voting age, provided that this does not entail the deprivation of fundamental rights. Apart from that, a fundamental discussion on age limits is called for.
Campaign “We want to vote!”
In 2013, the FRFG launched the campaign “We want to vote!” for the parliamentary elections. Its aim is to abolish the voting age limit so that in future children and young people under 18 can also take part in elections.
The Economist: Why the voting age should be lowered to 16