Voting age

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A voting age is a minimum age established by law that a person must attain to be eligible to vote in a public election. Typically the age is set at 18 years, however ages as low as 16 and as high as 21 also exist.


The vast majority of countries in the world have established a voting age. Most governments consider that those of any 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.

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.[1] There has also been discussion of giving votes to children from birth, initially with the votes being cast by parents, who are presumed to better understand a child's interests (Demeny voting).

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.


Prior to the second World War almost all countries had voting ages of 21 or higher. Czechoslovakia was early to act, reducing its age to 18 in 1946, and by 1968 a total of 17 states had made the reduction.[2] A large number of countries, particularly in Western Europe, reduced their voting ages to 18 during the 1970s, starting with the United Kingdom in 1970 with countries such as the US (26th Amendment), 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. However, a few countries maintained voting ages of 20 years or higher.

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,[3] and a dispute is continuing in the Maldives.[4]

Further reductions

Protest in favour of lowering the voting age by members of NYRA Berkeley, California, 2004.

Around the turn of the 20th to 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, as teens of that age and younger are as affected by the laws as 18 year olds. 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.[5]

In the 2000s (decade) 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,[6] but ultimately none were successful. Proposals were made in 2005 for a national reduction in Canada[7] and a state reduction in New South Wales, Australia,[8] but again there was no success.


In 2007 Austria became the first member of the European Union to adopt a voting age of 16 for most purposes.[9] 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.[10]

The voting age for municipal elections in some states was lowered to 16 in the early 2000s (decade).[5] Three states had made the reduction by 2003 (Burgenland, Carinthia and Styria),[5] and in May 2003 Vienna became the fourth.[11] Salzburg followed suit,[12][13] and so by the start of 2005 the total had reached at least five states out of nine.[14] 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.[13]

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.[15] The policy was set in motion by a Government announcement on 14 March,[16] and a bill proposing an amendment to the Constitution was presented to the legislature on 2 May.[17][18] On 5 June the National Council approved the proposal following a recommendation to do so from its Constitution Committee.[9][10][19] 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.[10] 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.[20] The voting age was reduced when the Bill's provisions came into force on 1 July 2007.[21] 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.[9]

United Kingdom

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.[22] 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.[23] The Government opposed the amendment, and it was defeated by 434 votes to 36.[23]

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.[24] 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.[25]

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.[26] 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.[27] 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.[28]

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".[29] 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."[30]

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.[31]

During the historic Youth Parliament debates of 30 October 2009 in the House of Commons, Votes at 16 was debated and was voted for overwhelmingly as a campaign priority and since that debate the issue has been raised in Prime Minister's Questions and has also gained the wide spread support of the major political parties.

In September 2011 it was revealed that the voting age is likely to be reduced from 18 to 16 for the Scottish independence referendum.[32]

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.[33]

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,[34] and the legislative amendments were adopted on 26 September.[35] The law was sanctioned by Order in Council on 12 December,[36][37] and was brought into force on 1 April, in time for the general elections in late 2008.[38][39]

On 31 October 2007 a proposal[40][41] 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.[41][42] An Order in Council sanctioning the law was made on 12 December,[36] 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.[43]

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.

United States

Purple 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, nineteen states permit 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections and caucuses if they will be 18 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 18 for federal elections as well. Because it only applies to state elections, 17-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.[44]

To pass, 60 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. 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.[45] 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.[46]

During the Vietnam War, most of those subjected to the draft were too young to vote or drink in most states, and the image of young people being forced to risk their lives in the military without the privileges of enfranchisement or the ability to drink alcohol legally also successfully pressured legislators to lower the voting age nationally and the drinking age in many states (see also Opposition to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War#The draft).

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.[47][48] In May 2007 the Iranian Cabinet proposed a bill to reverse the increase.[49][50]

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.[51][52]

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.[53] When this happened on 25 July Bradford abandoned the idea, citing an adverse public reaction.[54] 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.[55] Following approval in the legislature[56] 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.[57]

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, 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.

Voting age:

Alphabetical list of countries

The following is an alphabetical list of voting ages in the various countries of the world.[58]


























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,[76] Manitoba on 10 October 1969,[77] Ontario in 1971,[76] Nova Scotia in 1973 following reduction to 19 in 1970[78] and British Columbia in 1992 following reduction to 19 in 1952[79]

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











New Zealand




United Kingdom

United States


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Further reading

See also

External links