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Voting age

A voting age is a minimum age established by law that a person must attain in order to be eligible to vote in a public election.

The vast majority of countries in the world have established a voting age. Most governments consider that those of an age lower than the chosen threshold lack the necessary capacity to independently decide how to cast a vote. The voting age is often of such importance that it is set by means of a constitutional provision.

At the present time the voting age across the world is typically 18. When the right to vote was first accorded in democracies the voting age was generally set at 21, or in some cases at an even higher level. In the 1970s widespread reform led to a reduction to 18 in a large number of countries. Debate is currently underway in many places on proposals to reduce the voting age below 18.

History

The reduction to 18

During the 20th century a large number of countries reduced the voting age from 21, with most lowering it to 18. The majority of these reductions were immediate, but in some cases a final reduction to 18 was preceded by one to a higher age (eg. 20). Exceptions to the voting age were also provided for in some countries on the basis of service given in conflicts such as the First and Second World Wars.

Czechoslovakia was early to act, reducing its age to 18 in 1946, and by 1968 a total of 17 states had made the reduction. A large number of countries, particularly in Western Europe, reduced their voting ages to 18 during the 1970s. The United Kingdom was the first such country to do so, in 1970. It led a swift and widespread sweep of the world's leading democracies, with countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and France following soon afterwards. By the end of the 20th century 18 had become by far the most common age at which citizens acquired the right to vote. There were however some countries, particularly those in Scandinavia, which maintained voting ages higher than 21.

Consideration of a reduction to 18 continued into the late 20th and early 21st century in those countries that had not already made the change. Reductions were seen in India, Switzerland, Austria and Morocco during this time. Since 2007, debate has been taking place in Japan, and a dispute is continuing in the Maldives. A reduction is probable to happen in 2008 in Lebanon as part of the new electoral law.

Further reductions

Around the turn of the 21st century 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 later copied the move.

In the 2000s a number of legislative proposals for reductions of the voting age to 16 were made in various U.S. states, including California, Florida and Alaska, but ultimately none were successful. Proposals were made in 2005 for a national reduction in Canada and a state reduction in New South Wales, Australia, but again there was no success.

Austria

In 2007 Austria became the first member of the European Union, and the first of the world's leading democracies, to adopt a voting age of 16 for all 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 in the early 2000s. 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.

Following the legislative election in 2006, 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 to do so 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 world's leading democracies, to adopt a voting age of 16 for all purposes.

United Kingdom

A 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 represented 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.

The Votes at 16 coalition, a group of political and charitable organisations supporting a reduction of the voting age to 16, was launched on 29 January 2003. At this time a Private Member's Bill was also proposed in the House of Lords by Lord Lucas, and received a Second Reading on 9 January.

In 2004 the Electoral Commission conducted a major consultation on the subject of the voting and candidacy ages, and received a significant response. In its conclusions it recommended that the voting age remain at 18. On 29 November 2005 the House of Commons voted 136-128 (on a free vote) against a Bill for a reduction in the voting age to 16 proposed by Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams. Parliament chose not to include a provision reducing the voting age in the Electoral Administration Act during its passage in 2006.

On 27 February 2006 the report of the Power Inquiry called for a reduction of the voting age, and of the candidacy age for the House of Commons, to 16. 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 education.

The 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, amongst other things, be tasked with examining the case for lowering the voting age. On launching the Paper the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said in the House of Commons: "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.

The Scottish National Party's conference voted unanimously on 27 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.

United States

Nineteen United States permit 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections and caucuses if they will be 18 years of age, by election day. An amendment to the state constitution is being considered in the Illinois legislature that would lower its voting age to 17 for non-federal elections, though states can set their voting age to lower than eighteen for federal elections as well. Because it only applies to state elections, seventeen-year-olds would not be able to vote in primaries and general elections for representatives, senators, and President of the United States even if the amendment passes the legislature and referendum.

To pass, sixty percent of each house of the state legislature would have to approve it, and it would then have to be approved over half of by voters in the November general election.

Crown dependencies

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, with the House of Keys approving the move by 19 votes to 4.

Jersey followed suit on 4 July 2007, when it approved in principle a reduction of the voting age to 16. The States of Jersey voted narrowly in favour, by 25 votes to 21, and the legislative amendments were adopted on 26 September. The law was sanctioned by Order-in-Council on 12 December, and was brought into force on 1 April, in time for the general elections in late 2008.

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 Guernsey general election, 2008.

Alderney and Sark, each part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, have autonomy in deciding the question. Both have yet to favour a reduction to 16.

Other countries

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 6 May 2007 the canton of Glarus in Switzerland voted to reduce the voting age from 18 to 16 for cantonal and local elections.

The New Zealand Green Party MP Sue 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.

A request to lower the voting age to 16 was made during the 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 to be acceptable. Following approval in the legislature the amendment formed part of the package of constitutional proposals, and was defeated in the 2007 referendum.

A report suggesting that consideration be given to reducing the voting age to 16 in the Australian Capital Territory in Canberra, Australia was tabled in the territorial legislature on 26 September 2007. This prompted the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria to voice its support for the making of a similar reduction in that state.

Voting ages around the world

18 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, Indonesia, North Korea, the Seychelles and Sudan. The minimum age is 16 in Austria, Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua and the Isle of Man (though Man is not a sovereign state). People aged 16-18 can vote in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro if employed. By contrast the minimum age in Uzbekistan is 25, which age is also used in Italy for elections to the Senate. 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 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.

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

  • Haiti: 18
  • Honduras: 18
  • 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 200,000 members of functional constituencies and an 800-member election committee drawn from broad regional groupings, municipal organizations, and central government bodies
  • Hungary: 18

I

J

K

L

M

N

O

  • Oman: 21, universal except for members of the military and police.

P

  • Pakistan: 18 years of age; universal; joint electorates and reserved parliamentary seats for women and non-Muslims
  • Palau: 18
  • Panama: 18
  • Papua New Guinea: 18
  • Paraguay: 18
  • Peru: 18 years of age; universal and compulsory until the age of 70; (members of the military and national police may not vote)
  • Philippines: 18 (16 for municipal elections and married persons)
  • Pitcairn Islands: 18 years of age; universal with three years' residency
  • Poland: 18
  • Portugal: 18
  • Puerto Rico: 18 years of age; universal; island residents are US citizens but do not vote in US presidential elections

Q

R

S

T

U

V

W

Y

Z

Chronology of lowering the voting age to 18

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.

non-federal elections: Quebec in 1963, Manitoba on 10 October 1969, Ontario in 1971, Nova Scotia in 1973 following reduction to 19 in 1970 and British Columbia in 1992 following reduction to 19 in 1952

prior reductions: Georgia in August 1943 and Kentucky in 1955; Guam in 1954 and American Samoa in 1965

Chronology of lowering the voting age to 16

This is a further list, similar to the above but of the dates upon which countries lowered the voting age to 16; unless otherwise indicated, the reduction was from 18.

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.

Alphabetical list of countries

Australia

Austria

Canada

Denmark

Germany

Ireland

Netherlands

New Zealand

Norway

Spain

United Kingdom

United States

Notes

Further reading

  • Cowley, Philip and David Denver (2004) 'Votes at 16? The Case Against,' Representation 41(1): 57-62.
  • Folkes, Alex (2004) 'The Case for Votes at 16,' Representation 41(1): 52-6.

See also

External links

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