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.

Extreme par­ties
A gen­er­al­ly increased ten­den­cy towards extrem­ist par­ties or “fun par­ties” can­not be observed among young peo­ple.

Low turnout
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.

More infor­ma­tion on “We want to vote!”

 

External Information

The Econ­o­mist: Why the vot­ing age should be low­ered to 16