Elderly people should be allowed to vote

No more fact-free discussion : Should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote?

The voting age is on everyone's lips these days: on July 31, 1970 - exactly 50 years ago - the then Federal President Gustav Heinemann drafted the 27th law amending the Basic Law, which came into force shortly afterwards. It changed Article 38, Paragraph 2 of the Basic Law, which from then on no longer read: "Anyone who is twenty-first is entitled to vote, and whoever has reached the age of twenty-fifth is eligible to vote."

Rather, the new wording of the article, which is still valid today, has been: “Anyone who has reached the age of eighteen is entitled to vote; You can choose who has reached the age of majority. ”The voting age was therefore reduced from 21 to 18 years - at least in its active variant.

The age of majority in Germany was only to be reduced from 21 to 18 years later, namely in 1974. Since that year 1974 and until today, a uniform voting age of 18 years applies to elections to the German Bundestag, both with regard to the (active) right to vote and the (passive) right to be elected.

These days, the voting age is not only of interest to contemporary historians. The question of what (minimum) age people are allowed to vote from is more topical than ever. The chairman of the Greens, Robert Habeck, recently adopted the demand to lower the voting age in federal elections from 18 to 16, as did Federal Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD).

A look at the level of the German federal states shows that a voting age of 16 has long been a reality in many places. A closer look reveals that there are three types of federal states: First, those states, such as Bavaria and Saxony, with a uniform age limit of 18 years in local, state, federal and European elections.

Second, there are those states with a limit for local elections that has been lowered to 16 years: Baden-Württemberg, Berlin and North Rhine-Westphalia are among them. And thirdly, there are those states with lower voting age limits for local and state elections: Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein make up this group.

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This brief look at the history and structure of the voting age shows: A nationwide uniform voting age of 18 years for all elections is more the exception than the rule. The voting age is not set in stone, but is in constant change. Sometimes there is also a correspondence between the voting age limit and the age of majority, but sometimes not.

But if there are obviously no fixed standards around the voting age, then empirical questions move into the focus of interest. Is a lower voting age a good idea? Skeptics of an age limit of 16 often point out that young people lack the necessary political maturity, the necessary interest, the necessary knowledge for voting.

16- and 17-year-olds get annoyed when they are not allowed to vote

Proponents of lowering tend to turn this argument around by asking: Why should young people be interested in politics when they are not allowed to vote anyway? They would be interested if they were allowed to vote, so their counterattack.

Ultimately, neither is true. At least that is shown by a study that we carried out at our workplace in cooperation with the Otto Brenner Foundation on the occasion of the state elections in Brandenburg and Saxony last year.

Brandenburg? Saxony? 2019? For electoral law experts, especially with an interest in questions about voting age, these two elections were a real treasure. In the two neighboring countries, state elections took place on the same day, namely September 1, 2019. But in one case - Brandenburg - the 16- and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote, in the other case - Saxony - they were not.

The very legitimate question of how to explain this difference to the young people actually affected is left out for the moment, even if our study shows that 16- and 17-year-olds in Saxony are really annoyed that they are not allowed to vote ...

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As researchers, we used this wonderful opportunity to vote at the same time and interviewed almost 7,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 in Brandenburg and Saxony. We wanted to shed a little empirical light on the often very normative and fact-free debate about voting age: What is the relationship between age, eligibility to vote and political interest?

If the skeptics were right in their argument that 16- and 17-year-olds lack the necessary maturity for voting, the interest and knowledge of young Brandenburgers would have to increase significantly with age.

If the proponents were right, who say that only those who are allowed to vote are interested in politics, then 16- and 17-year-olds in Brandenburg, where they are allowed to vote, should be much more interested than in Saxony, where they don't allowed to.

Even 15-year-olds are as interested as 19-year-olds

Who is right? Ultimately none. Rather, we find that political interest and political knowledge do not differ between the two federal states or between different age groups. Even 15-year-olds are as interested in both countries as 19- or 20-year-olds. You could say that the youth are stable.

This is true at least on average, because of course there are also among young people who are politically interested as well as those who are less interested in politics. “The 16-year-old” or “the 17-year-old” is just as rare as the 44-year-old. But that is another point again.

If, on average, there are no differences in the interests and knowledge of young people, it is difficult to explain to stable youth why they are deprived of the right to vote.

Prof. Thorsten Faas heads the “Political Sociology of the Federal Republic of Germany” at the Otto Suhr Institute for Political Science at the Free University of Berlin. The entire study “Voting at 16? An empirical contribution to the debate about lowering the voting age ”can be downloaded from https://www.otto-brenner-stiftung.de/waehlen-mit-16.

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