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. Today, the most common voting age is 18 years; however, voting ages as low as 16 and as high as 25 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. Debate is ongoing in a number of countries on proposals to reduce the voting age to or below 16.
Before the Second World War, the voting age in almost all countries was 21 years or higher. Czechoslovakia was the first to reduce the voting age to 18 years in 1946, 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 1970s, starting with the United Kingdom (1970), with the United States (26th Amendment) (1971), Canada, Australia (1974), France 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. It was argued that 18-year-old men could be drafted to go to war, and many people felt they should be able to vote at the age of 18.
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries voting ages were lowered to 18 in India, Switzerland, Austria and Morocco. Japan was due to make the change to 18 in 2016. A dispute is continuing in the Maldives.
Debate on lowering voting age to 16
Around the year 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.
Arguments against lowering the voting age to sixteen include lack of political maturity and arguments for include encouraging interest in politics in young people.
During the 2000s several proposals for a reduced voting age were put forward in U.S. states, including California, Florida and Alaska, but none was successful. 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.
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.
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.
The Representation of the People Act 1969 lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, with effect from 1970 and remained in force until the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 which allowed 16 year olds to vote for the first time, but only in Scotland and only in that particular referendum. The Scottish Parliament reduced the voting age to 16 for its own and Scottish local elections in 2015.
Men in military service who turned 19 during the first world war were entitled to vote in 1918 irrespective of their age as part of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which also allowed some women over the age of 30 to vote. The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 brought the voting age for women down to 21.
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 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 that 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 UK 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 Private Member's 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 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 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."
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.
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. Since that debate the issue has been raised in Prime Minister's Questions and has also gained the widespread support of the major political parties.
In April 2015, Labour announced that it would support the policy if it won an overall majority in the 2015 general election.
There was some criticism about not reducing the voting age to 16 years for the referendum on the membership in the European Union in 2016.
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 Scottish Parliament elections and Scottish local government 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 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.
Blue indicates a state that allows 17-year olds who will turn 18 on or before election day to vote in caucuses or primaries.
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. (See also Opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War#Draft.) By 1968, several states had lowered the voting age below 21 years: Alaska and Hawaii's minimum age was 20, Kentucky's was 19, and Georgia'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, not at local and state level.
The 26th Amendment (passed and ratified in 1971) set the voting age for federal and state elections at 18 years, but does not prevent states from establishing a lower voting age. 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."
21 states permit 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections and caucuses if they will be 18 by election day: Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington. Alaska, Kansas, North Dakota and Washington allow 17-year-olds to participate in Democrat caucuses, but not in the Republican caucus. Minnesota allows 17-year-olds to participate in presidential caucuses, but may not vote in primary elections for other offices.
Currently, the Maine Green Independent Party, the state branch of the Green Party of the United States, calls for the lowering of the voting age to 17.Youth suffrage appears to be gaining ground in Massachusetts; three of the four Democratic United States Senate candidates in 2010 supported lowering the voting age.
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 (but not general) elections and referendums. California has, since the 1980s, allowed persons who are 17 to register to vote for an election where the election itself will occur on or after their 18th birthday, and several states including Indiana allow 17-year-olds to vote in a primary election provided they will be 18 by the general election.
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 Swiss Canton of Glarus reduced 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 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.
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 and defeated.
In 2015, federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said that the voting age should be lowered to 16.
Luxembourg has compulsory voting from the age of 18. A proposal by the government to introduce optional voting for those aged 16 and 17 was rejected by 81% of voters in a June 2015 referendum.
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, Nicaragua and the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey (three self-governing British Crown Dependencies). People aged 16-18 can vote in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro if employed. 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 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.
- Gabon: 18
- Gambia: 18
- Georgia: 18
- Germany: 18
- Voting age 16 for state elections: Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein.
- Voting age 16 for municipal elections: Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein.
- Ghana: 18
- Gibraltar: 18; universal, plus other British citizens who have been residents six months or more
- Greece: 17 from 3 August 2016 onwards, was 18 before 3 August 2016
- Greenland: 18
- Grenada: 18
- Guadeloupe: 18
- Guam: 18; US citizens, but do not vote in US presidential elections
- Guatemala: 18; active-duty members of the armed forces may not vote and are restricted to their barracks on election day.
- Guernsey: 16
- Guinea: 18
- Guinea-Bissau: 18
- Guyana: 18
- 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 220,000 members of functional constituencies and an 1,200-member election committee drawn from broad regional groupings, municipal organizations, and central government bodies
- Hungary: 18
- Oman: 21, except for members of the military and police.
- Pakistan: 18; joint electorates and reserved parliamentary seats for women and non-Muslims
- Palau: 18
- Panama: 18
- Papua New Guinea: 18
- Paraguay: 18; universal and compulsory until the age of 75
- Peru: 18; universal and compulsory until the age of 70; (members of the military and national police could not vote until a Constitutional Reform in 2005)
- Philippines: 18
- For youth councils: 18 to 30; previously from 15 to 18. Incumbents are allowed to keep their positions if they surpass the legal age.
- Pitcairn Islands: 18; universal with three years' residency
- Poland: 18
- Portugal: 18
- Puerto Rico: 18; island residents are US citizens but do not vote in US presidential elections.
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
- Germany: 1970 
- Netherlands: 1971 (previous reduction from 23 to 21 in 1965)
- United States: 1 July 1971, per the Twenty-sixth Amendment. Previously reduced on 1 January 1971 by the Voting Rights Act Amendments 1970, ss. 302, 305 (Prior reductions: Georgia in August 1943,Kentucky in 1955,Guam in 1954 and American Samoa in 1965.)
- Finland: 1972 (from 20; previous reductions were 24 to 21 in 1944 and 21 to 20 in 1968/1969)
- Sweden: 1972 (from 20) 
- Ireland: 5 January 1973 (4th Amendment of the Constitution). Women under 30 gained the vote in local elections in 1935 and in Dáil elections and referendums in 1922 (Constitution of the Irish Free State). The only popular election (in 1925) to the Free State Seanad had a voting age of 30.
- Australia: 1973 (New South Wales was the first state to do so, in 1970)
- France: 5 July 1974 (Act No. 74-631)
- New Zealand: November 1974 (from 20; previous reduction from 21 to 20 in 1969)
- Dominica: 1974
- Italy: 1975 (voting age to elect the Senate remained at 25)
- Trinidad and Tobago: 1976
- Denmark: 19 September 1978 (from 20; 53.8% in referendum; previous reductions were 25 to 23 in 1953, 23 to 21 in 1961 and 21 to 20 in 1971)
- Spain: 29 December 1978 (1978 Constitution)
- Peru: 1979 Constitution
- Belgium: 1981
- India: 28 March 1989 (61st Constitution Amendment Act, 1988 read with Act 21 of 1989)
- Switzerland: 1991 (from 20; referendum held on 3 March)
- Austria: 1992 (from 19; previous reductions were 21 to 20 in 1949 and 20 to 19 in 1970)
- Estonia: 29 July 1992 (from 22, according to the 1938 Constitution; was 18 during the Soviet Occupation since 1940 and 16 for the Congress of Estonia in 1990)
- Hong Kong: 1995 (from 21)
- Liechtenstein: 2000 (from 20; LGBl. 2000 No. 55)
- Jordan: July 2001 (from 19; Provisional Election Law No. 34/2001)
- Pakistan: 21 August 2002 (Legal Framework Order, 2002), was 18 under 1973 Constitution, then increased to 21, then lowered back to 18.
- Morocco: 11 December 2002 (from 20)
- Uzbekistan: July 2012 (from 25)
- Saudi Arabia: April 2015 (from 21)
- Japan: June 2016 (from 20)
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.
- Nicaragua: November 1984 (from 21)
- Brazil: 5 October 1988 (Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil, 1988)
- Estonia: 24 February 1990 (from 22 according to the 1938 Constitution, from 18 during the Soviet occupation); only for the Congress of Estonia, was raised to 18 according to the 1992 Constitution
- Isle of Man: 11 July 2006; legislation brought into force in time for general election held on 23 November 2006
- Austria: 1 July 2007 (BGBl. No. 1/1930, as amended)
- Guernsey: 19 December 2007 (Reform (Guernsey) (Amendment) Law, 2007)
- Jersey: 1 April 2008 (Public Elections (Amendment No. 2) (Jersey) Law 2008)
- Ecuador: 28 September 2008 (New constitution accepted by referendum) for general election on 26 March 2009.
- Argentina: 1 November 2012. Voting for teenagers between 16 and 18 years of age became optional.
- Malta: 20 November 2013. Motion passed in parliament to lower the voting age to 16 at local council elections starting from 2015.
- Scotland: 18 September 2014. 16 & 17 years old were given the vote for the Independence Referendum. This was subsequently extended permanently as of the 2016 parliament election.
- Estonia: 6 May 2015 in local elections only.
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
In 2013, the Constitutional Convention was asked to consider reducing the voting age to 17 and recommended lowering it to 16. The then government agreed to hold a referendum, but in 2015 postponed it indefinitely to give priority to other referendums.
No political party had decreed that its members should all follow the party line about lowering voting age policy, resulting in public differences of view. Most parties had splits in their members and supporters, taking different sides.
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