The Labour Party has recently announced its plan to lower voting to the age of 16, a policy which several of parties of various countries have already taken in consideration. During the Luxembourgian general elections in 2013, the Pirate Party presented ‘votes at 16’ as a focal point in their manifesto. Yet, would a democratic country really benefit from dropping the compulsory voting age, or do eighteen years already represent the limit in terms of politics?

The opponents of this new policy argue that an adolescent’s level of maturity to take political decisions, with a probable impact on their country’s future, is sufficiently developed. With ironic counter-arguments like “When I see my daughter’s room..” or “Why not lower the age to 14”, citizens against this new age code state their point. As the US series “My Super Sweet Sixteen” highlights, this age does not sparkle of cultivated wisdom; on the contrary, many teenagers set their priorities to many other things than to their country’s politics. However, is it fair to pigeon-hole the entire youth?

With this new policy neither the UK, nor another European country would commit a revolutionary step. In fact, Austria, one of the politically most stable countries worldwide, currently represented the first country in Europe with a legal voting age of sixteen years. Even so, across the borders of Europe countries such as Brazil and Cuba have lowered the legal voting age to sixteen.

A slightly questionable facet concerns the relation between the limited legal age of alcohol and cigarette consumption, driver license, army and political voting. In fact, it seems adequate that a teenager of sixteen is responsible enough when it comes to consuming alcohol or to be a part of the daily street traffic. In the same way, a citizen of sixteen is eligible to start an apprenticeship in prospect of a job. Thus why does this age trigger numerous debates when it comes to politics?

On the one hand, based on personal experience, I do acknowledge that a minority of sixteen year-old people possess a clear and thorough knowledge of, or even interest in their country’s politics. However, one must include that when approaching the legal voting age, not all, but many youngsters start to engage with political issues in order to acquire necessary information for the day of elections. In that way, lowering the age to sixteen would logically imply that people would be forced to engage in an earlier stage with politics to prepare for the elections.

Nonetheless, the main responsibility lays in the hands of education. In other words, I do not think that I would go on a limb by asserting that many young people would have benefited from a stronger focus on political issues in order thrive their own interest, as well as to improve their understanding of current topics. In that regard, before degrading adolescents for their dearth of political interest, one should first consider how much is done in terms of education to change this.

After all, a sensible implementation represents to set eighteen years as the compulsory age limit, but offering politically engaged youngsters the opportunity to vote, by fixing the age gap between sixteen and eighteen as an optional voting period, as for example the voting policy in Brazil envisages. In that way, adolescents could earlier interfere and realise their contribution to the country’s political future.

Laury Schaack

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