Sunday, December 4

Congress debates lowering the voting age to 16

The measure proposed by Esquerra and supported by United We Can and More Country would affect almost a million young people, 2% of the electorate

Miguel Angel Alfonso

From the age of 16, young Spaniards can legally work -and therefore contribute-, drive motorcycles or have consensual sexual relations with adults, but they still do not have the right to vote. A claim that several parties have carried in their electoral programs, such as Más País or United We Can, and that returns to the debate after the Esquerra Republicana has once again taken to the plenary session of Congress its proposal to change the Electoral Law to allow this party to vote. age. Although it does not seem to prosper, the lower house will debate this afternoon an issue that presents sharp edges and great complexity.

In the previous attempt, in 2016, the lower house took it into consideration but did not begin its parliamentary process when the government rejected it due to its economic cost. If it goes ahead, according to experts, there would be two main beneficiaries of the lowering of the voting age, United We Can and Vox.

The last time the minimum age for exercising electoral suffrage was modified was with the entry into force of the current Constitution in 1978. Then the age of majority -which in Spain entails the right to vote- was reduced from 21 to 18 years. Now some groups insist on lowering the age to 16 with the argument that not doing so supposes “a deprivation of democratic rights.” This is what the president of the Spanish Youth Council, Manuel Ramos, thought in 2020, who celebrates the proposal of the sovereignists.

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“His defense is more a question of social rights than an ideological question. When you deprive someone of a right in a democracy you have to have a good justification, and in the case of not allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote, this is not so clear. From that age on there are a series of key differences that justify being able to vote, the clearest being that you can work and pay taxes, and that makes you a de facto citizen,” Ramos explained to this newspaper at the time.

The measure, which is already applied in other European Union countries such as Austria (where it became effective in the 2008 general elections), would affect 926,323 young people in Spain who are 16 and 17 years old today, according to data from the INE. Despite its high number, experts believe that the electoral impact would be minimal. “At most it would mean 2% of the total vote, which also would not all go to one side,” says the sociologist and president of the GAD3 consultancy, Narciso Michavila.

As for the involvement of the new voters in political affairs and whether they will join the abstention, the only figure that, for now, could be used as a reference is that of 51.5% of young people under 25 who were not convinced of going to vote in the last general elections of 10-N of 2019, as published by the CIS a month earlier. However, Michavila believes it could contribute to a higher turnout. “If you start voting at 16, the citizen begins to take responsibility earlier and when you reach 18, you are already trained,” she maintains.

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support for independence

Nor is it a coincidence that Esquerra is the party that is most strongly promoting the measure. According to the latest survey by the Catalan CEO, 45% of citizens in Catalonia are in favor of independence, while if the age group between 15 and 19 years old is taken exclusively, this percentage grows to 61%. «In Catalonia, grandparents and grandchildren are more pro-independence. In fact, the 1-0 referendum allowed people over 16 to vote. But Esquerra would not benefit as much in its electoral results as it would in its support for independence, ”says Michavila.

But lowering the voting age to 16 meets with opposition beyond pure political gambling. Some voices maintain that adolescents at that time do not have the maturity to discern in political terms or their lack of involvement in the society that surrounds them, something that the Youth Council rejects. «This debate is marked by a cultural pattern that falls into the stereotype of those who think that youth is demobilized, when we are precisely seeing that youth are leading movements such as climate or feminist every 8-M. There are many issues in which youth is highly mobilized, especially in the student sphere,” adds Ramos, convinced that this will be a “difficult” fight.

Austria, Slovenia, Bosnia or the German State of Bremen

The first European country to lower the voting age to 16 was Austria in the 2008 general election, and it has remained in force ever since. Three years later, Germany followed, specifically the inhabitants of that age in the State of Bremen, who were able to elect their political representatives in local and regional elections. Since then, the vote before 18 was extended to other German regions, but, for now, it has not been implemented in all. It only applies to four of the 16 ‘landers’.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, you can vote at age 16, but only if the voter has a job, the same situation as in Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia. In 2016, the Alexis Tsipras government approved the lowering of the voting age for Greeks. But, unlike other countries, it was not reduced to 16 years, but to 17. Just like in Israel. Minors can also vote in Hungary, but only if they are married.

In the United Kingdom, the measure to reduce the age of suffrage to 16 years is limited to Scotland, since it is a right that was granted to them for the referendum on independence in 2014 and, in 2015, it was extended to elections to Parliament Scottish.

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