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The Austrian Experiment....

by Metatone Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 07:07:04 AM EST

Do you think 16 and 17 year olds should be voting in national elections?

Fran posted this article in the Salon:

Austria opens the polls to 16-year-olds - Europe, World - The Independent

Austria becomes the first country in the European Union to grant its 16-year-olds the right to vote in a general election this weekend but the move has provoked widespread controversy and criticism, even from the teenagers heading for the ballot box for the first time.

The new law lowering the voting age from 18 to 16 was passed last year by Austria's grand coalition government of conservatives and Social Democrats. It was expected to be used for the first time in polls scheduled for 2010, but the governing coalition was consumed by infighting and collapsed in July. And 200,000 new Austrian voters aged 16 and 17, now have a chance to vote on Sunday.

The move is designed to offset what is seen as a demographic imbalance caused by the Alpine state's rapidly ageing population. Last year Austria's 65-year-olds exceeded the number of 15-year-olds in the country. However, critics have argued that given the snap elections, the youngsters have not had enough time to prepare themselves as a result. And some of the would-be voters - who can purchase beer and wine even though they cannot drive or do military service - concur.

"I don't agree with the idea of teenagers of my age being given the right to vote," said Julia Tauschek, a 16-year-old high school pupil from the Austrian town of Linz yesterday. "We simply don't know enough about politics and we are not taught much about them at school either."

Within the EU, this is the first national election in which 16 and 17 year olds will vote.

According to Wikipedia municipal elections in some states in Germany and of course lower level elections in Austria have already taken place under similar rules, but I would argue that the election of the national government is a psychologically different affair that we should all be watching closely.


[As an aside, Nicaragua and Brazil have held national elections including age 16+ voters, but not only are those societies more different to European ones, but I have not found much statistical analysis of them.]

I think that this election will put a lot of theories in the debate about letting these younger people vote to the test:

  1. Will they turn out?
  2. Will their vote be almost randomly distributed?
  3. Will they vote for the extremes in huge numbers?

[Those are some of the arguments that have come up against the idea in debates in the UK in the past.]

My own stance, from experiences in my home country (the UK) is that I hope very much that this experiment is a success and continues.

I do look back at myself at 16 and the people around me and I do wonder (now I'm older) if we were all ready to make a responsible vote. However, despite such (ageist? reverse-nostalgic?) considerations I think this is a very necessary experiment, because structurally society seems inclined to push teenagers to the margins, demonise them and fail to take account of their needs (particularly in the infrastructure of urban space.) If they can vote, perhaps this will improve...

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Do you think 16 and 17 year olds should be voting in national elections?

Yes.  Democracy is predicated on the idea that everyone's interests count.  This creates a relentless pressure to extend the franchise to everyone even moderately capable of exercising it.

16 year olds have interests, and they are certainly able to express them. They should therefore be able to express them where it matters - at the ballot box.

(As for the idea of a "responsible vote", I regard this as simply leftover aristocratic bullshit.  Government isn't there to make responsible choices; it's there to make our choices.  Its responsibility depends on us, the votes - but we can certainly choose to be "irresponsible" (e.g. by not sucking up to the US and invading Iraq, or by taking a stand on climate change, or by taxing business to support a welfare state) if we so choose).

by IdiotSavant on Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 08:40:14 AM EST
... how many Merchant Bank CEO's would qualify under a dispassionate assessment of their responsibility?

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 04:00:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Will their vote be almost randomly distributed?

That's a nearly meaningless question... What is the null hypothesis?

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 09:52:57 AM EST
Well, adults in the last election didn't display a near random voting pattern.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 10:34:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To clarify, the thesis would be that if the new voters largely vote in a random fashion their votes (200,000 or so possible) will be spread rather evenly between the choices.

I am not arguing that they will, but some in opposition claim that 16 and 17 year olds will just wander in and tick a box at random.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 10:35:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was heavily influenced by my mother's extreme bias to the Tories and didn't have access to finding out about other party's or their politics at 16.  If young people now are interested in voting then they have the internet, which partys should make good use of if they wish to engage young people.

I think it is right to let 16 year olds vote, because some are well informed and may already be active in politics at that age.

Just as you get ill informed 16 year olds, you get ill informed adults of any age who either don't turn out or vote for ridiculous reasons.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 10:11:23 AM EST
Yeah, the pros and cons are different, but I don't think they "add" up to anything different than they do for adults.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 01:17:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We once had Gerrit Zalm at our high school (in Enkhuizen, where he is from). A kid asked of him what his party, the right-liberal VVD, offered children, stating that the Green Left had some good policies for the youth, like legalising marihuana. Zalm gave some boilerplate about prospects and the economy. We were all supposed to be thinking about our futures!
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 02:06:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that there's a lot to be said for bundling suffrage with all the other rights and obligations that are unlocked when one turns 18 (in most countries). I am not convinced that it makes sense to have people vote on finance bills who cannot enter into many types of binding financial obligations under their own signature, to name just one example.

And before arguing that 16-yrs olds should enter into full citizenship, bear in mind that full citizenship includes such things as the right to enter into military service, the right to go into debt and a variety of other sharp, pointy corners of adult life that minors are currently protected from by virtue of their "citizen-lite" status.

It is certainly possible to make the case that 16-yrs-olds are sufficiently mature to handle the rights, risks and obligations the come with full citizenship. I am not convinced that the case is sound, but I'm not convinced that it's not either.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 04:40:10 PM EST
In the UK at least 16 yr olds can enter the army (as my cousin has just done) and alose enter into many financial obligations.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 05:15:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But only with parental approval, I think, and (in accordance with the UN convention of the rights on the child) they are not supposed to be sent into combat before 18. Of course, there have been mistakes.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 05:27:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I disagree with the bundling. These are some of the rules and age limits in Sweden.

Barnombudsmannen / Åldersgränser
12 år
Om dina föräldrar vill att du ska byta efternamn krävs ditt godkännande.
Du får ha lättare arbeten, till exempel att sälja jultidningar eller majblommor.
Om du fyllt tolv år får du inte adopteras utan att du själv går med på adoptionen. Men även innan du fyllt tolv så har du rätt att säga vad du tycker.
12 years
Your approval is needed for your parents to change your last name.
You can have a lighter work, for example selling paper subscriptions.
You can not be adopted without your approval.
13 år
Du får ha ett lättare arbete högst 12 timmar i veckan.
13 years
You can have lighter work at most 12 hours a week.
15 år
Du blir straffmyndig. Det betyder att du kan straffas för ett brott.
Det är tillåtet att ha sex med någon efter att man fyllt 15 år.
Du får köra moped (klass 1).
Du får se barnförbjudna filmer på bio.
Om din cykel eller moped har lämpliga säten, får du skjutsa en person. Personen måste vara under 10 år.
15 years
You can be punished for a crime.
You are allowed to have sex.
You can drive a moped (class 1).
You can see all movies at the cinema.
If your bike or moped is suitably equiped, you can have a passenger. The passenger has to be under 10 years old.
16 år
Skolplikten upphör när du gått ut nionde klass.
Du får ta ett normalt, riskfritt arbete, det vill säga jobba 40 timmar i veckan. Men arbetsgivaren har lite mer ansvar för dig som inte är myndig än för dina myndiga arbetskamrater.
Du får starta egen firma.
Du får själv bestämma över de pengar du tjänat.
Du får ta körkort för lätt motorcykel och traktor.
Du får börja övningsköra bil.
Dina föräldrar får inte längre barnbidrag för dig. Nu får du istället studiebidrag.
16 years
Once you have finished ninth grade you are no longer obliged to attend school.
You can have a normal, risk-free job, that is 40 hours a week. Though your employer has extra responsibility for you.
You can start your own company.
You can decide freely what to do with your money.
You can get a license for light motorbike or tractor.
You can start to practise driving a car.
Your parents no longer get child money from the government, instead you get a studying stipend (note: as long as you attend high school).
18 år
Du blir myndig.
Du får gifta dig.
Du får rösta.
Du får köpa cigaretter.
Du får köpa alkohol på restaurang och öl i affärer.
Du får ta körkort för bil och tung motorcykel.
Enligt lagen slutar dina föräldrars underhållsskyldighet när du fyllt 18 år. Det betyder att de inte är skyldiga att försörja dig längre. Men om du fortfarande går i skolan fortsätter föräldrarnas underhållsskyldighet. De ska i så fall försörja dig så länge du går på gymnasiet eller tills du fyller 21 år.
18 years
You are an adult.
You can get married.
You can vote.
You can buy cigarettes.
You can buy alcohol at restaurants and beer in shops.
You can get a drivers license for car or heavy motorbike.
Your parents are no longer obliged to support you, though their obligation remains untill you finish high school or turn 21.

Adding, if male you get called to military service at 18, though that is not considered a right as such. You have no right to enter the army, you have an obligation to serve if called. And at 20 you can finally buy a bottle of whisky in a store.

My point is that the rights today come little by little (in Sweden and I presume also in Denmark), and moving "You can vote" from 18 to 16 does not really upset this picture. Interestingly enough, 16 is financial adulthood in Sweden.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Sep 28th, 2008 at 11:56:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Most of them are similar in Denmark, but the financial rights and the driver's licence practise are in the 18-yr bracket instead of the 16-yr bracket, making it rather more top-heavy.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Sep 29th, 2008 at 01:35:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This has been on the platform of some Green and/or hard-left parties. And when I was 16, I was pretty politicised, and mightily annoyed that I can't vote. Then again, today, I am not so sure. I too would fear a vote for extremists -- right-extremists.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 04:46:20 PM EST
Personally, I'm pretty much against the lowering of the voting age. When I was at school I didn't know anything and neither did my friends, although some of them called themselves socialists cos it was fahsionable.

However, mostly my complaint is not about who has the vote, but whether that vote is worth having. Invariably politicians tinker with voting ages cos there is something else wrong with the system.

In the uk, the number of people who vote decreases with each election. Politicians state that this is because of "apathy" when it is quite blatantly because there is no point voting. Fully 2/3 of constituences will not change hands...ever. They haven't in a century and probably won't for another. So anybody who has alternate views in those areas is disenfranchised.

In the other places, parties have become so good at appealing to swing voters, those who can be persuaded by smart blandishments that now parties tailor their stated policies to appeal to somewhat less than 30,000 people spread across 150 consituencies. the other 60 million of us don't matter cos our vote is already bartered.

So why vote ?? They might as well name the 30,000 and leave the rest of us out. Don't change the voting age, change what the vote means. Give us a new voting system that means all votes mean something. then they might see voting figures increase, and the public will notice that politicians might start standing for a principle or two instead of cheap advantage.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Sep 29th, 2008 at 01:50:41 PM EST


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