So far, around one fifth of the German population — children and young people under 18 years of age — have no say in political decisions. They are ignored by politicians. But today’s decisions will affect under-18-year olds for decades to come and so the question of whether these “lost votes” can be found is very important.
“Votes for all” – the right to vote from birth – should not be misunderstood to mean that toddlers or even babies should be allowed to vote. Rather, young people should be given the right to vote as soon as they can and want to exercise it independently. 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 be able to do so as soon as they want to. There should still be an age limit above which everyone can vote, but those younger should be able to vote if they expressly wish to do so.
Reducing the voting age to 16 years at all levels, as in Austria, Malta and several German states (for local and regional elections) is a reasonable first step towards a further reduction.
Arguments made, arguments lost
Sometimes you might hear arguments against votes for all. They don’t stand up to scrutiny:
Maturity and political interest
Adults do not have to reach a certain level of maturity or show a particular level of political interest before they can vote. And in any case many young people (not all, but then not all adults do either) are able to think for themselves and take a conscious social, moral or political decision before they are 16 years old. There are also many young people who are politically interested but feel they are not listened to. Giving them the vote would harness their energy and get them into good voting habits for when they are older.
But who would they vote for?
There is no evidence to suggest that young people do or would vote for extreme or joke parties more than older people.
But would they even bother to vote?
Here we are talking about letting young people vote when they expressly wish to do so, and so it can be assumed they will be among the most likely to vote. Statistics suggest that 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.
But their parents would just tell them what to do?
Young people start to become influenced by others apart from their parents at the age of around twelve to thirteen, and the influence of their friends and acquaintances increases at the same time. There is no empirical evidence of their parents exerting an unreasonable influence on the electoral decisions of younger voters. In any case, we are all of us, whatever our age, influenced by the people around us anyway. Who could deny that an adult is often influenced by other people? Does that mean they shouldn’t be able to vote?
But what about other age limits like the age of criminal responsibility? How can somebody vote if they are too young to even be punished?
Other age limits are not comparable with an age limit on the right to vote because they do not entail a deprivation of a fundamental human right – the right to vote.
Read about the We Want to Vote! Campaign
The Economist: Why the voting age should be lowered to 16