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Minimum age of eligible voters
A voting age is a minimum age established by law that a person must attain before they become eligible to vote in a public election. As of the present day, the most common voting age is 18 years; however, voting ages as low as 16 and as high as 25 currently exist
(see list below). Most countries have set a minimum voting age, often set in their constitution. In a number of countries voting is compulsory for those eligible to vote, while in most it is optional.
When the right to vote was being established in democracies, the voting age was generally set at 21 or higher. In the 1970s many countries reduced the voting age to 18. The debate is ongoing in a number of countries on proposals to reduce the voting age to or below 18. In Brazil, for example, the minimum age lowered from 18 to 16 years old in the 1988 constitution.
Prior to the Second World War of 1939-1945, the voting age in almost all countries was 21 years or higher. In 1946 Czechoslovakia became the first state to reduce the voting age to 20 years, and by 1968 a total of 17 countries had lowered their voting age. Many countries, particularly in Western Europe, reduced their voting ages to 18 years during the 1960s and 1970s, starting with the United Kingdom (1969), with the United States (26th Amendment) (1971), Canada, West Germany (1972), Australia (1974), France (1974), and others following soon afterwards. By the end of the 20th century, 18 had become by far the most common voting age. However, a few countries maintain a voting age of 20 years or higher, and a few countries have a lower voting age of 16 or 17. It was argued that if young men could be drafted to go to war at 18, they should be able to vote at the age of 18.
Around 2000, a number of countries began to consider whether the voting age ought to be reduced further, with arguments most often being made in favour of a reduction to 16. The earliest moves came during the 1990s, when the voting age for municipal elections in some States of Germany was lowered to 16. Lower Saxony was the first state to make such a reduction, in 1995, and four other states did likewise.
In 2007, Austria became the first country to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in national elections, with the expanded franchise first being consummated in the 2009 European Parliament election. A study of young voters' behaviour on that occasion showed them to be as capable as older voters to articulate their beliefs and to make voting decisions appropriate for their preferences. Their knowledge of the political process was only insignificantly lower than in older cohorts, while trust in democracy and willingness to participate in the process were markedly higher.
During the 2000s several proposals for a reduced voting age were put forward in U.S. states, including California, Florida and Alaska, but none were successful. In Oregon, Senate Joint Resolution 22 has been introduced to reduce the voting age from 18 to 16. Also in British Columbia, Canada in August 2018, a group of 20 youth partnered with Dogwood BC to launch a Vote16 campaign of their own. Currently, they have unanimous support from the UBCM (Union of BC Municipalities), as well as endorsements from BC Green and NDP representatives. The campaign is now waiting for it to be brought up in the legislative assembly by the NDP and for it to pass there. vote16bc.ca A national reduction was proposed in 2005 in Canada and in the Australian state of New South Wales, but these proposals were not adopted. In May 2009, Danish Member of Parliament Mogens Jensen presented an initiative to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg to lower the voting age in Europe to 16.
Demands to reduce the voting age to 16 years were again brought forward by activists of the school strike for climate movement in several countries (including Germany and the UK).
On 21 October 2019, Greens MP Bandt introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to lower the voting age to 16.
In 2015, federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said that the voting age should be lowered to 16.
In 2007, Austria became the first member of the European Union to adopt a voting age of 16 for most purposes. The voting age had been reduced in Austria from 19 to 18 at all levels in 1992. At that time a voting age of 16 was proposed by the Green Party, but was not adopted.
The voting age for municipal elections in some states was lowered to 16 shortly after 2000. Three states had made the reduction by 2003 (Burgenland, Carinthia and Styria), and in May 2003 Vienna became the fourth.Salzburg followed suit, and so by the start of 2005 the total had reached at least five states out of nine. As a consequence of state law, reduction of the municipal voting age in the states of Burgenland, Salzburg and Vienna resulted in the reduction of the regional voting age in those states as well.
After the 2006 election, the winning SPÖ-ÖVP coalition announced on 12 January 2007 that one of its policies would be the reduction of the voting age to 16 for elections in all states and at all levels in Austria. The policy was set in motion by a Government announcement on 14 March, and a bill proposing an amendment to the Constitution was presented to the legislature on 2 May. On 5 June the National Council approved the proposal following a recommendation from its Constitution Committee. During the passage of the bill through the chamber relatively little opposition was raised to the reduction, with four out of five parties explicitly supporting it; indeed, there was some dispute over which party had been the first to suggest the idea. Greater controversy surrounded the other provisions of the bill concerning the Briefwahl, or postal vote, and the extension of the legislative period for the National Council from four to five years. A further uncontroversial inclusion was a reduction in the candidacy age from 19 to 18. The Federal Council approved the Bill on 21 June, with no party voting against it. The voting age was reduced when the Bill's provisions came into force on 1 July 2007. Austria thus became the first member of the European Union, and the first of the developed world democracies, to adopt a voting age of 16 for all purposes. Lowering the voting age encouraged political interest in young people in Austria. More sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds voted than eighteen-to-twenty-one-year-olds in Austria.
Brazil lowered the voting age from 18 to 16 in the 1988 constitution. The presidential election of 1989 was the first with the lower voting age. People between the ages 18 and 70 are required to vote. The person must be 16 full years old on or before 31 May of that election year. If their date of birth is 1 June or after, it occurs in the year they turn 17 years old. If they turn 18 years old after the election, the vote isn't compulsory. When they turn 18 years old before the election, the vote is compulsory. When they turn 16 years old on 1 June or after, they mustn't vote.
The first proposal to lower the voting age to 16 years was submitted in parliament in 2007. A bill to lower the voting age for municipal elections reached the final reading in 2018, but was filibustered by opponents until the close of the parliamentary session.
Iran had been unique in awarding suffrage at 15, but raised the age to 18 in January 2007 despite the opposition of the Government. In May 2007 the Iranian Cabinet proposed a bill to reverse the increase.
On 20 November 2013, Malta lowered the voting age from 18 to 16 for local elections starting from 2015. The proposal had wide support from both the government and opposition, social scientists and youth organizations.
On Monday 29 January 2018, the Maltese Parliament debated to lower the voting age to 16 for general elections, European Parliament Elections and referenda.
On Monday, 5 March 2018, the Maltese Parliament unanimously voted in favour of amending the constitution, lowering the official voting age from 18 to 16, making Malta the second state in the EU to lower its voting age to 16.
The New Zealand Green PartyMPSue Bradford announced on 21 June 2007 that she intended to introduce her Civics Education and Voting Age Bill on the next occasion upon which a place became available for the consideration of Members' Bills.
When this happened on 25 July Bradford abandoned the idea, citing an adverse public reaction. The Bill would have sought to reduce the voting age to 16 in New Zealand and make civics education part of the compulsory curriculum in schools.
The reduction of the voting age to 16 in the United Kingdom was first given serious consideration on 15 December 1999, when the House of Commons considered in Committee an amendment proposed by Simon Hughes to the Representation of the People Bill. This was the first time the reduction of a voting age below 18 had ever been put to a vote in the Commons. The Government opposed the amendment, and it was defeated by 434 votes to 36.
The UK Ministry of Justice published on 3 July 2007 a Green Paper entitled The Governance of Britain, in which it proposed the establishment of a "Youth Citizenship Commission". The Commission would examine the case for lowering the voting age. On launching the Paper in the House of Commons, PM Gordon Brown said: "Although the voting age has been 18 since 1969, it is right, as part of that debate, to examine, and hear from young people themselves, whether lowering that age would increase participation."
During the Youth Parliament debates of 30 October 2009 in the House of Commons, Votes at 16 was debated and young people of that age group voted for it overwhelmingly as a campaign priority. In April 2015, Labour announced that it would support the policy if it won an overall majority in the 2015 general election, which it failed to do.
YouGov poll research from 2018 shows that whilst the public are still opposed, there is growing support for extending the franchise. As of May 2019, all the main parties, with the exception of the Conservatives, back reducing the age to 16. Some have argued the Conservatives are hypocritical not to support this, as they allow 16-year-olds to vote in their leadership elections. It is also argued that all the main parties' approach is self-serving as younger voters are thought more likely to support left leaning parties and remaining in the EU, and less likely to support right leaning parties, and leaving the EU.
In September 2011, it was announced that the voting age was likely to be reduced from 18 to 16 for the Scottish independence referendum. This was approved by the Scottish Parliament in June 2013.
In June 2015, the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to reduce the voting age to 16 for elections for the Scottish Parliament and for Scottish local government elections.
Major reforms were recommended in November 2017 in the 'A Parliament That Works For Wales' report, by the expert panel on Assembly Electoral Reform led by Professor Laura McAllister. It included increasing the size of the Assembly, adapting/ changing the electoral system and of course reducing the age of voting to 16.
The Welsh Assembly's Commission, the corporate body, introduced on 12 February 2019 a bill to reduce the voting age to 16 and change the name to Senedd.
The first election to include the biggest enfranchisement in Welsh Politics since 1969 will be the 2021 Senedd election.
Also the Welsh Government has legislated for the enfranchisement of 16 and 17-year-olds in the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act, which received royal assent on 20 January 2021. The changes will be in place by May 2022 for local Welsh elections.
Moves to lower the voting age to 16 were successful in each of the three British Crown dependencies from 2006 to 2008. The Isle of Man was the first to amend its law, when on 12 July 2006 it reduced the voting age to 16 for its general elections, with the House of Keys approving the move by 19 votes to 4.
On 31 October 2007, a proposal for a reduction made by the House Committee of the States of Guernsey, and approved by the States' Policy Committee, was adopted by the assembly by 30 votes to 15. An Order in Council sanctioning the law was made on 12 December, and it was registered at the Court of Guernsey on 19 December. It came into force immediately, and the voting age was accordingly reduced in time for the 2008 Guernsey general election.
Blue indicates a state that allows 17-year-olds who will turn 18 on or before election day to vote in caucuses or primaries. Pink indicates states that allow 17-year-olds to participate in presidential caucuses, but may not vote in primary elections for other offices.
In the United States, the debate about lowering voting age from 21 to 18 began during World War II and intensified during the Vietnam War, when most of those subjected to the draft were too young to vote, and the image of young men being forced to risk their lives in the military without the privileges of voting successfully pressured legislators to lower the voting age nationally and in many states. By 1968, several states had lowered the voting age below 21 years: Alaska and Hawaii's minimum age was 20, while Georgia and Kentucky's was 18. In 1970, the Supreme Court in Oregon v. Mitchell ruled that Congress had the right to regulate the minimum voting age in federal elections; however, it decided it could not regulate it at local and state level.
The 26th Amendment (passed and ratified in 1971) prevents states from setting a voting age higher than 18. Except for the express limitations provided for in Amendments XIV, XV, XIX and XXVI, voter qualifications for House and Senate elections are largely delegated to the States under Article I, Section 2 and Amendment XVII of the United States Constitution, which respectively state that "The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature." and "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures."
17 states permit 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections and caucuses if they will be 18 by election day: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, Vermont, and West Virginia. Iowa, Minnesota, and Nevada allow 17-year-olds to participate in all presidential caucuses, but may not vote in primary elections for other offices. Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Washington, and Wyoming allow 17-year-olds to participate in only Democratic caucuses, but not in the Republican caucus. However, the majority age in Alabama and Nebraska is 19, and that of Mississippi is 21, thus 18-year-old Alabamians and Nebraskans, and 18 to 20-year-old Mississippians are minors according to respective state laws; they are the only underage people eligible to register or vote in their states.
In 2013, the City of Takoma Park, Maryland became the first place in the United States to lower its voting age to 16, for local elections and referendums. As of 2018, three additional cities have lowered the voting age to 16: Hyattsville and Greenbelt in Maryland and Berkeley in California (for school board elections only). In 2018, a bill in the Council of the District of Columbia was proposed to lower the voting age to 16, which would make the federal district the first jurisdiction to lower the voting age for federal level elections.
On 3 April 2019, Andrew Yang became the first major presidential candidate to advocate for the United States to lower its voting age to 16. At 16, Americans do not have hourly limits imposed on their work, and they pay taxes. According to Yang, their livelihoods are directly impacted by legislation, and they should therefore be allowed to vote for their representatives.
A request to lower the voting age to 16 was made during consideration of revisions to the Constitution of Venezuela in 2007. Cilia Flores, president of the National Assembly, announced that the Mixed Committee for Constitutional Reform had found the idea acceptable. Following approval in the legislature the amendment formed part of the package of constitutional proposals, and was defeated in the 2007 referendum.
Maximum voting age
There are occasional calls for a maximum voting age, on the grounds that older people have less of a stake in the future of the country or jurisdiction.
Voting ages around the world
Eighteen is the most common voting age, with a small minority of countries differing from this rule. Those with a national minimum age of 17 include East Timor, Greece, Indonesia, North Korea, South Sudan and Sudan. The minimum age is 16 in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Malta, Nicaragua, Scotland and Wales, and the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey (three self-governing British Crown Dependencies). The highest minimum voting age is 21 in several nations. Some countries have variable provision for the minimum voting age, whereby a lower age is set for eligibility to vote in state, regional or municipal elections.
The only known maximum voting age is in the Holy See, where the franchise for electing a new Pope in the Papal Conclave is restricted to Cardinals under the age of 80.
Alphabetical list of countries
The following is an alphabetical list of voting ages in the various countries of the world.
Gibraltar: 18; universal, plus other British citizens who have been residents six months or more
Greece: 17 from July 2016 onwards, was 18 prior. People that turn 17 in the year of the elections can also vote. This means that if a 16-year-old teen was born in the last day of 2004, he/she can vote in an election taking place in 2021.
Hong Kong: direct election 18 years of age; universal for permanent residents living in the territory of Hong Kong for the past seven years; indirect election limited to about 220,000 members of functional constituencies and a 1,200-member election committee drawn from broad regional groupings, municipal organizations, and central government bodies
Luxembourg: 18, compulsory until the age of 75. A proposal to lower the voting age to 16 was rejected in 2015 in a nationwide referendum (81% "no"-votes)
Macau: direct election 18 years of age, universal for permanent residents living in Macau for the past seven years; indirect election limited to organizations registered as "corporate voters" (973 are currently registered) and a 300-member Election Committee drawn from broad regional groupings, municipal organizations, and central government bodies.
United Arab Emirates: none but at least 25 for membership of the Electoral College, which consists of a significant minority of all citizens (the minimum age is decided by the ruler of each Emirate and may vary from one Emirate to another)
The following is a chronological list of the dates upon which countries lowered the voting age to 18; unless otherwise indicated, the reduction was from 21. In some cases the age was lowered decrementally, and so the "staging points" are also given. Some information is also included on the relevant legal instruments involved.
Turkey: 20 April 1924 (Previously 25 per the 1876 constitution, reduced to 18 with the 1924 constitution. It was again raised to 22 on 5 December 1934 while granting full women's suffrage, and gradually lowered to 21 in 1961, 20 in 1987 and 18 in 1995)
Wales: 6 May 2021, for the elections to the Senedd Cymru (formerly the National Assembly for Wales). The Welsh Government has also legislated the enfranchisement of 16 and 17-year-olds in local government elections by May 2022 for the local Welsh elections.
Organizations in favour of lowering the voting age
The following are political parties and other campaigning organisations that have either endorsed a lower voting age or who favour its removal.
^"Constitution of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) Act, 1922". Irish Statute Book. 6 December 1922. Schedule 1, Article 14. Retrieved 2016. All citizens of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) without distinction of sex, who have reached the age of twenty-one years and who comply with the provisions of the prevailing electoral laws, shall have the right to vote for members of Dáil Eireann, and to take part in the Referendum and Initiative.
^Building a Better Scotland. 'We will also campaign for the following measures, which are not within the Scottish Parliament's powers:...The reduction of the voting and candidacy age to 16 - for all elections'. Scottish Socialist Party (official website). Retrieved 1 February 2017.