Voting at age 16

Over the past year, young climate acti­vists have re-spar­ked the debate about lowe­ring the voting age to 16. The coro­na­vi­rus crisis has high­ligh­ted the fact that all of us, young and old, are part of the same society. From finan­cial resour­ces to natu­ral ones, there is a limi­ted supply. How they are distri­buted requi­res discus­sion. But who gets to have their say?

Lowe­ring the voting age to 16 has been a topic of intense discus­sion at both natio­nal and canto­nal level for the past year. But the debate is not a new one. As far back as 22 June 2007, Evi Alle­mann – then a Natio­nal Coun­cil­lor for the Social Demo­cra­tic Party – tabled a parlia­men­tary initia­tive propo­sing to set the voting age at 16. The aim was to get young people more invol­ved in poli­tics, streng­t­hen demo­cracy and take demo­gra­phic ageing into account. The Natio­nal Coun­cil rejec­ted the propo­sal decisi­vely with 107 votes to 61. The canton of Glarus was ahead of the curve, howe­ver. Loca­ted in the centre of Switz­er­land, the canton of Glarus has allo­wed 16-year-olds to vote since 2007. The expe­ri­ence has been posi­tive. And now, 13 years later, other cantons are looking to follow suit. The Commu­nal Coun­cil of Uri stron­gly supports lowe­ring the voting age, and it has become an agenda item in the cantons of Basel-Stadt, Vaud, Valais and Zurich, too. The topic was even addres­sed by the Natio­nal Coun­cil Poli­ti­cal Insti­tu­ti­ons Commit­tee (PIC‑N) at the end of May.

Offi­cial support

The Federal Commis­sion for Child and Youth Affairs (FCCY) supports the propo­sal. The FCCY is an expert commit­tee that advi­ses the Federal Coun­cil and the admi­ni­stra­tion on specia­li­sed issues. It expres­sed its empha­tic support for lowe­ring the voting age to 16 in a posi­tion paper, empha­si­sing that doing so would promote the image of young people who take respon­si­bi­lity. Having the power to vote would give young people the oppor­tu­nity to be part of the deci­sion-making process and play an active role in society. 

Is Switz­er­land beco­m­ing a gerontocracy?

A further argu­ment was put forward by the poli­ti­cal scien­tist and histo­rian Claude Long­champ in an opinion piece for Swiss­info. Switzerland’s voters are getting older. The median voter age is curr­ently 57, and this is projec­ted to rise. This means half of voters are over 57, the other half youn­ger. Lowe­ring the voting age from 18 to 16 won’t make a huge statis­ti­cal diffe­rence, says Long­champ in an arti­cle for Repu­blik – either way, Switz­er­land is threa­tening to become a geron­to­cracy. As a result, the question of at what age young people should be invol­ved in poli­ti­cal proces­ses is beco­m­ing incre­a­singly rele­vant. How else are they suppo­sed to repre­sent their inte­rests and concerns? When it comes to the issue of climate change, they have made their voices heard in the streets. Young people already have a number of rights and respon­si­bi­li­ties at 16, so they want to be able to have their say. Their future is at stake. And rising life expec­tancy means more of this future will be lived along­side the older genera­tion. As many of the projects presen­ted in this edition of our maga­zine show, the most effec­tive solu­ti­ons are ones that do not divide the genera­ti­ons into those provi­ding and those recei­ving help.

The coro­na­vi­rus crisis has shown us all that we can only succeed if we work together.

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