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.
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.