B Explanatory memorandum by Mr Aligrudić,
A motion for a resolution entitled “Expansion of
democracy by lowering the voting age to 16” was tabled with the
Parliamentary Assembly in May 2009.Note
was referred to the Political Affairs Committee, which appointed
2. The Political Affairs Committee discussed this issue at its
meeting in Belgrade on 6 and 7 September 2010 and held an exchange
of views with a representative of the European Youth Forum at its
meeting in Paris on 14 and 15 December 2010.
The Assembly has long been concerned with youth participation
in politics. In its Recommendation
on the participation of young people in political
and institutional life, the Assembly declared that it was “convinced,
if democracy is to survive and develop, of the importance of the
active and effective awareness, understanding, participation and
commitment of young people in political and institutional life at
local, national and European levels”. In Recommendation 1286 (1996)
European strategy for children, the Assembly urged member states
“to enable the views of children to be heard in all decision-making
which affects them” and “to reconsider the age at which young people
In June 1996, the Assembly adopted Order No. 523 on the situation
of young people in Europe: marginalised youth, following a report
submitted by Mr Mikko Elo, in which the Assembly noted that: “key
areas for policy discussion at national level ... [include] whether
or how to ... lower the minimum age for voting”. In Recommendation 1315 (1997)
the minimum age for voting, the Assembly did not recommend the lowering of
the voting age to 16 but called on member states to rapidly harmonise
the age for the right to vote and stand for election at 18 years
in all countries and for all elections and to create the necessary
preconditions for the participation of young people in civic life
through education and the promotion of community involvement. Finally, Resolution 1630 (2008)
refreshing the youth agenda of the Council of Europe underlined
that the encouragement of the active participation of young people
in civic and institutional life had been a key element in the youth
policy of the Council of Europe.
5. In parliaments throughout Europe, the issue of lowering the
age of voting to 16 is being increasingly discussed and this change
is already being adopted in certain Council of Europe member states.
2 Current state of play: the voting age
6. At the present time, the voting age across the democratic
world is typically 18, following widespread reform in the 1970s
which lowered the voting age from 21 in a large number of countries.
There have since been calls, particularly by civil society groups,
to lower the voting age further to 16.
7. Today, the great majority of Council of Europe member states
have 18 as their minimum voting age. The only European country where
the voting age is higher is Italy, whose nationals are not allowed
to vote in elections for the Senate until they are 25 (however,
they may vote for the Camera dei deputati,
the Lower House of Parliament, as from the age of 18).
8. In 2007, Austria became the first member of the Council of
Europe and of the European Union and the first of the developed
world's democracies to adopt a voting age of 16 for all municipal,
state, national and European elections. Three Federal states had
made the change 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 five states out of
nine. The lowering of the voting age for municipal elections in
Burgenland, Salzburg and Vienna resulted in the reduction of the
voting age for state elections in those states as well. Following
the legislative elections in 2006, the winning SPÖ-ÖVP coalition
announced that one of its policies would be the reduction of the
voting age to 16 for all elections in all states in Austria. The
policy was set in motion in March and a bill proposing an amendment
to the constitution was presented to the legislature in May. In
June 2007, 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. A further uncontroversial inclusion
was a reduction in the candidacy age from 19 to 18. The Federal
Council approved the bill on 21 June 2007, with no party voting
9. Germany has also lowered the voting age to 16 in some Länder. In 1995, Lower Saxony did
so for municipal elections. The Länder of
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, North-Rhine Westphalia, Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein
have subsequently followed suit.
10. Similarly, in 2007, the canton of Glarus in Switzerland lowered
the voting age to 16 for local and regional elections.
11. 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, in July 2006, it reduced
the voting age to 16 for its general elections. Jersey followed
suit in July 2007, when it approved in principle a reduction of
the voting age to 16. The law was brought into force in April 2008,
in time for the general election in late 2008. In 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 States of Deliberation. An Order-in-Council sanctioning the
law was made in December 2007. It came into force immediately, and
the voting age was accordingly reduced in time for the Guernsey
general election in 2008.
12. In Hungary, there are certain circumstances in which young
people are permitted to vote at the age of 16. For instance, those
persons who marry before reaching the age of 18 enter into full
adult legal rights and can therefore vote.
13. In Slovenia, young people can vote at 16 if they are employed.
14. In Norway, the government has given 16-year-olds the right
to vote in 20 selected municipalities at the 2011 local elections,
as part of a greater effort to get young people interested in politics.
3 European countries considering lowering the age
15. A number of countries are actively considering lowering
the age of voting. In July 2010, the Irish Parliament’s joint committee
on the constitution recommended that it be amended to allow 17-year-olds
to vote in the elections for the Dail Eireann (Lower House of Parliament).
16. The Finnish government has decided to investigate the possibilities
of lowering the voting age to 16, as part of its government programme
17. In Denmark, motions have been put forward in the Folketing
(the Danish Parliament) for a suffrage commission on how to engage
the youth in democracy and the possibility of lowering the voting
age to 16, as well as a turnout commission to examine the declining
turnout in local elections. The suffrage commission, which consists
of representatives of all major political parties, trade unions,
think tanks, youth organisations, experts and the media, was established
in the autumn of 2010 and is expected to deliver a report by late
2011. At the 2009 local elections, 31 municipalities organised shadow
elections for the 16- and 17-year-olds.
18. In September 2008, the Minister for Human Rights and Ethnic
Minorities of the Czech Republic put forward a motion to lower the
voting age to 16 at local elections as part of a wider programme
to motivate young people to participate in democracy and acknowledge
them as a part of society.
19. Discussions have taken place in Malta about lowering the age
of voting. The Labour Party proposed to lower the age of voting
to 16, in the framework of the June 2009 European Parliament election.
20. In the United Kingdom, the reduction of the voting age to
16 was first given serious consideration in December 1999, when
the House of Commons considered in committee an amendment to the
Representation of the People Bill. This was the first occasion that
the question of a voting age lower than 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.
In 2004, the Electoral Commission conducted a major consultation
on the subject of voting and candidacy ages, and received a significant
response. In its conclusions, published on 19 April 2004,Note
the Commission recommended
that the voting age remain at 18. In November 2005, the House of
Commons voted by 136 to 128 (on a free vote) against a Private Member's
Bill for a reduction in the voting age to 16. Parliament chose not
to include a provision reducing the voting age in the Electoral
Administration Act during its passage in 2006.
22. In February 2006, the report of the POWER Inquiry called for
a reduction to 16 of both the voting age and the candidacy age for
the House of Commons. On the same day, the then Chancellor of the
Exchequer, Gordon Brown, indicated in an article in The Guardian that he favoured a
reduction, provided it was made concurrently with effective citizenship
The Ministry of Justice published, in July 2007, a Green Paper
entitled The Governance of Britain,Note
it proposed the establishment of a “Youth Citizenship Commission”.
The Commission would, among other things, be tasked with examining
the case for lowering the voting age. The Green Paper was put into practice
and a Youth Citizenship Commission was set up in July 2007. It was
also asked to carry out a consultation on whether the voting age
should be lowered to 16. A consultation paper was published in October 2008
and responses were sought by January 2009. The Youth Citizen Commission
published a summary of the responses in April 2009. In June 2009,
the commission published its recommendations following the consultation
but did not recommend a reduction in the voting age, leaving the
political decision to the politicians.
24. More recently, the Labour Party, in their 2010 General Election
manifesto, promised to improve citizenship education for young people
and a free vote in parliament on reducing the voting age to 16.
The Liberal Democrats followed suit by pledging to do the same if
they were elected.
The Scottish National Party's conference voted unanimously
in October 2007 for a policy of reducing the voting age to 16, as
well as in favour of a campaign for the necessary power to be devolved
to the Scottish Parliament. The Minister for Parliamentary Business
“the Scottish Government
agrees that the lack of consistency with other legal rights on entering
adulthood such as paying taxes, getting married or serving in the
armed forces, leads young people to believe that their views are
not valid or important.” He went on to say: “We plan that the bill
will extend the franchise for the pilot health board elections to
include those aged 16 and over. If the government is successful,
young people will have their vote in an area in which the Scottish Parliament
has competence ... I would like to extend voting at 16 to local
government elections as a next step but, unfortunately, as with
so much of Scotland's electoral legislation, reduction of the voting
age for elections is a matter reserved to Westminster.” In February
2008, a debate in the Welsh Assembly showed significant support
for lowering the voting age to 16.
26. At the level of civil society across Europe, there is gathering
support for a reduction of the voting age to 16. One such movement
is the “Votes at 16” coalition, set up in 2003. The Votes at 16
coalition gathers major United Kingdom youth organisations, political
parties and other supporters. The coalition is led by a steering group
of active members, which includes the British Youth Council, which
hosts the secretariat, the Co-Operative, the Children’s Rights Alliance
for England, the Scottish Youth Parliament and the National Union
of Students, which have been campaigning for votes at 16 for a number
of years. The Trade Union UNISON has also voted to support Votes
27. The Brussels-based European Youth Forum, which is an independent
youth-led platform, representing 98 National Youth Councils and
International Youth Organisations from across Europe, is leading
the way in calling for the voting age to be lowered to 16.
4 Current state of play outside Europe
28. Europe is by no means the only continent where this
issue has been raised. Iran went as far as awarding suffrage at
15, but raised the age back to 18 in January 2007 despite the opposition
of the government. A request to lower the voting age to 16 was made
during the consideration of revisions to the Constitution of Venezuela
in 2007, but was defeated by referendum. A report suggesting that
consideration be given to reducing the voting age to 16 in the Australian
Capital Territory in Canberra was tabled in the territorial legislature
in September 2007, but was defeated. In 2009, the Australian government
launched a Green Paper on an electoral reform, including the possibility
of lowering the voting age to 16.
29. Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua all have a voting age
of 16 and Indonesia, East Timor, Sudan, and Seychelles have a voting
age of 17. In Israel, 17-year-olds can vote in local elections.
In the Philippines, 16-year-olds can vote in all elections, if they
5 Discussion of the arguments in favour of lowering
the voting age
5.1 Increase of representativeness
30. The first argument is the expansion of democracy.
An election which also includes 16- and 17-year-olds is more representative
than one which includes only those over 18. Adding another section
of society increases the representativeness of those elected and
there is no counter argument to this. It could be argued, as one member
of the Political Affairs Committee did, that we should not stop
at 16. However, a threshold at 16 is consistent with the completion
of compulsory school education in most Council of Europe member
31. Since the onset of democratic revolutions in Europe, beginning
with the French revolution in 1789, there has been a continuous
movement towards a more inclusive democracy by giving civic rights
to more and more citizens, acknowledging that not only wealthy men
but also women and the poor were capable of making democratic decisions.
Lowering the voting age to 16 would continue this trend, making
democracies more democratic by including more citizens in decision-making
processes. European society is subject to constant change, new challenges,
needs and opportunities, especially for young people. These changes
need a common, pan-European, cross-sectoral, intercultural and intergenerational
sustainable democratic response to make sure that youth issues and
the perspective of young people are not under-represented on the European
5.2 Democratic participation
32. It is argued that earlier voting will increase the
problem of low turnout. According to a report published by the United
Kingdom Parliament, at the present time, 18- to 25-year-olds are
the least likely to cast a vote at election time. Youth membership
of political parties is falling. Lowering the voting age still further
is not likely to reverse this trend. One of the major reasons for
non-participation by young people is the disconnection they feel
from political parties and election candidates.
33. However, the exclusion of 16- and 17-year-olds from elections
is thought to fuel the disengagement of 18- to 24-year-olds. The
motivation to participate actively in decision-making is lower when
there is a perception of having no real influence. Lowering the
electoral age would motivate the 16- and 17-year-olds to participate
more in the democratic process. Lowering the voting age would also
force politicians to formulate more solid and substantial youth
34. The longer young people are denied involvement in the formal
democratic process, the less chance there is of their ever engaging
them. In the United Kingdom elections of 2005, turnout among 18-
to 24-year- olds was only 37%, a drop of two percentage points since
the previous election. The Electoral Reform Society has suggested
that if people are given the chance to vote at a younger age, they
are more likely to vote as they grow older.
35. Research in three German Länder on
the turnout level of 16- to 18-year-olds shows that this age group is
more likely to acquire the habit of voting than their predecessors,
who were allowed to vote only at the age of 18. In North Rhine-Westphalia,
the turnout among 16- to 21-year-olds was slightly below the average
for the whole electorate, but clearly higher – by about 5% to 8%
– than among those aged 21 to 30. Similar results held for Lower
Saxony, where the City of Hanover, in 1996, saw turnout among the
16- and 17-year-old age group at 56.5%, compared to 49% amongst
18- to 24-year-olds, with 16- to 18-year-olds voting at a level comparable
to 35- to 45-year-olds. A comparable conclusion can also be drawn
for the 1999 local elections in Saxony-Anhalt.
36. Although age-disaggregated turnout figures are not collected
in Austria, research by the Institute for Social Research and Consulting
(SORA) and the International Sociological Association (ISA) gives
an insight into the effects of this change. They found that more
than three quarters of the first-time voters in the 2008 general
election followed political issues more than once a week, and more
than two thirds of the electorate composed of 16- to 18-year-olds
stated they were interested in the election campaign. This is despite
only 20% of SORA’s survey respondents saying they trusted major
political actors and criticisms from the group that politicians
were not reflecting youth-specific issues in their election campaigns.
The turnout in the newly enfranchised group was estimated to be
the same as the general electorate in 2008, around 73%, and the research
team found no meaningful bias on the basis of age group.
37. A report written by the British political think tank Demos,
entitled “A New Frontier”, about voting habits in the United Kingdom,
observed that 19% of 16- and 17-year-olds would be “absolutely certain”
to vote, and 65.5% of them “more likely to vote than not”. The proportion
of 16- and 17-year-olds who said they “would not vote” (9%) was
slightly lower than the proportion among those aged over 18 (11%).
The social context has proved essential in establishing a
continuous interest in politics and turnout. Researcher Mark Franklin,Note
who has been studying election turnout
in European elections for the past twenty years, concludes that
a stable context in terms of school, living at home and friends
has a great influence on first-time voters’ turnout. On these grounds,
a voting age of 18 is not conducive for the turnout of young voters, because
this is the time when young people are leaving home, beginning their
university studies and making new friends. Lowering the voting age
to 16 would therefore increase the chances for a higher turnout
for first-time voters, and thus a continuous higher turnout.
5.3 Demographic changes
39. The average age of Europe’s voters is inexorably
rising year by year and the cohort of youngsters is proportionally
shrinking. In 2000, 12.4% of the European population was aged between
15 and 24, whereas the group of 65- to 90-year-olds made up 16.2%.
Eurostat projections show that, by 2020, the group of 15- to 24-year-olds
will account for 10.9% of the population and the group of 65- to
90-year-olds for nearly twice this, 20.6% of the total. Lowering
the voting age would contribute to maintaining a demographic balance
between youngsters and adults.
40. There is a need for a public political platform in order to
improve intergenerational dialogue. Societal shifts and demographic
developments need a political answer and lowering the electoral
age to 16 would allow the transfer of intergenerational discourse
into parliaments and put youth issues on the political agenda. It would
therefore give young people and their issues an equal voice in the
public debate. Politicians tend to give more weight to the views
of people who actually do hold the right to vote, and therefore
are more interested in them as their prospective voters.
5.4 Citizenship rights and responsibilities
41. 41. Many 16-years-olds are already active participants
in society: in many states, they are allowed to leave school and
find work; those who do so therefore pay taxes; and they are also
able to get married and take on civic responsibilities.
42. Although in many countries young people cannot vote at the
age of 16, they can, for instance in Germany, take driving lessons,
buy alcohol, and leave school if they have completed the minimum
years required by the state. Similarly, in the United Kingdom, they
can have sexual relations, marry with parental consent, work full-time,
have children, claim benefits and obtain a National Insurance number,
join the armed forces and be convicted of a criminal offence but
not be given a custodial sentence. It is a similar story throughout
the Council of Europe member states. In Austria, France, Spain,
and Portugal, it is possible to consume alcohol without food as
from the age of 16 (17 in Luxembourg). As mentioned above, 16-year-olds are
able to take on more and more responsibility, yet they are still
denied the vote. Arguably, they should therefore be entitled to
complete their civic rights by casting their votes in local, regional,
national and European elections.
The United Kingdom Electoral CommissionNote
claim that their 2004 findings show
that 16-year-olds are simply not mature enough to be entrusted with
the vote. The large majority still live at home and go to school. A
16-year-old still requires parental permission to get married and
under 18s in the military are held back from frontline duty. Rights,
such as permission to buy alcohol or gamble in a betting shop or
casino, are not always given at 16 and there are currently campaigns
for age barriers to be raised for tobacco and fireworks. In the opinion
of many, 16-year-olds may have adult bodies but their minds are
still those of children. The Citizenship Foundation in the United
Kingdom presented the argument that “if we were to lower the voting
age from 18 to 16, so bringing in vast numbers of semi-educated
and, indeed, sometimes under-educated children, we would make democracy
in this country even less reliable”.Note
44. In a democracy, however, there is no “wrong” option, as all
the options on offer (parties, lists, candidates) are legitimate.
In addition, past experience shows that the voting pattern of the
16-17 age group is very similar to that of the 18-24 age group.
From a psychological point of view, the moral and cognitive development
of young people is completed by the age of 14; therefore, as from
that age, young people are capable of knowledge-based decision-making.
45. Another problem on the issue of maturity is the lack of consistency
throughout Europe regarding the age of adult responsibility. This
can clearly be seen if one considers the widely different treatment
across Europe for such things as the age for consuming alcohol,
the age young people are allowed to marry and criminal responsibility.
A United Kingdom survey conducted in 2004 and published in British Social Attitudes
there had been a significant fall since 1994 in the interest that
young people express in politics and the extent to which they favour
any of the British political parties. It also found that the well-established
generation gap between the levels of political interest shown by
the oldest and youngest age groups had widened since 1986. While
interest does develop with age, current levels are so low that they
“… would need to increase substantially over the next decade or
so if these groups are to 'catch up' with previous generations”.
6 Candidacy age
Any discussion about lowering the voting age cannot
ignore the closely related issue of minimum age for candidates. Recommendation 1315 (1997)
cited earlier, also urged states to reduce the age that people can
stand in elections. The main argument raised in support of a minimum
candidacy age is that a greater degree of maturity is required to
act as a political representative than to elect such a representative.
Therefore, a reasonable period of time should be allowed to pass
between the right to vote and the right to be a candidate.
48. The general perception among National Youth Councils working
for Votes at 16 is that the age to stand as candidates for local,
regional, national and European elections should also be 16. Young
people have significant responsibilities towards society at the
age of 16 and can have significant responsibilities in the private
and voluntary sectors; this inconsistency should be rectified.
49. On the other hand, it has been suggested by the Votes at 16
campaign that there should be no minimum candidacy age at all; determining
the fitness of individuals to hold elected office should rely only
on the other filter mechanisms of party selection processes and
the ballot box, as well as the common sense of the electorate.
50. 50. There is a less clear picture internationally when it
comes to a minimum candidacy age. For all levels of public election,
the minimum age is 18 in Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands,
Portugal, Spain and Sweden, 19 in Austria and 21 in Belgium. Eighteen
is also the standard age of candidacy for elections in Australia
and Canada. However, in France, candidates in local elections must
be 18, but for the national legislature they must be 23 or older.
To be eligible to run for the presidency, candidates must be at
51. In Italy, a person must be at least 50 to be President of
the Republic, 40 to be a senator, or 25 to be a deputy, as specified
in the 1947 Constitution. Eighteen years of age is sufficient, however,
to be elected member of the Council of Regions, Provinces and Municipalities
52. In Norway, a person can run for election in parliament or
local councils from the age of 18, or 17 if turning 18 in an election
year. On a national scale, the 2003 municipal and county election
saw the election of 68 candidates under the age of 18.
This is a controversial issue. The decrease in participation
in the electoral process, in particular by young people, is worrying
and efforts should be made to reverse the trend. One option would
be lowering the voting and candidacy age from 18 to 16. There are
thresholds for different elections (for instance 16 for local, 17
for regional and 18 for national);
- different thresholds for voting (for instance 16) and
for being a candidate (for instance 18 for parliament);
- allowing voluntary registration (in the electoral lists)
as from the age of 16;
- linking voting to employment or marital status.
54. While it makes some sense to have a higher threshold for standing
as a candidate than to vote, it seems difficult to justify different
thresholds for different elections. To link voting rights below
18 years to employment or marital status would be unconstitutional
in many Council of Europe member states.
55. In the rapporteur's view, the most reasonable option is to
harmonise the right to vote at 16 years in all countries and for
all elections, on a voluntary basis, and at the same time examine
the minimum ages to stand for different elections (local and regional
bodies, parliament, senate, presidency,) with a view to lowering
them whenever advisable.
56. There are many arguments in favour of lowering the active
voting age to 16 and very few against it. In addition, the experience
of countries and regions where the voting age has already been lowered
to 16 shows that there are no negative effects.
57. The Assembly should therefore call on Council of Europe member
states to create the necessary preconditions for the participation
of young people in civic life through education and the promotion
of community involvement and to undertake all possible measures
to encourage such participation, including through the lowering
of the voting age from 18 to 16 for local, regional, national and