SSince the mid-1990s at the latest, there has been a discussion across Germany, across the country and at almost all levels, about lowering the active voting age to 16 years. A trend in this direction is unmistakable: In eleven of the 16 federal states, sixteen and seventeen-year-olds can now cast their votes at least in local elections, and in Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein they can even have a say in the composition of the state parliaments. In Hesse, on the other hand, the 18-year limit still applies – even though there is now a majority in the state parliament with the SPD, Greens, FDP and Left Party in favor of a change. However, all reform requests fail, firstly because of the consistently negative attitude of the CDU, and secondly because of the fact that the black-green government coalition does not want to be divided on this issue.
And that’s a good thing because the difficult debate about young people’s ability to choose has to be weighed very carefully. Adolescents are religiously and at least partially of age at the age of 14, which means that they are allowed to turn away from their previous denomination and turn to another and must accept criminal responsibility for the consequences of their actions. People aged 16 are allowed to work in Germany, open an account and pay taxes. With reference to this, the municipal voting age in Hesse had already been reduced to 16 in 1998 by the then red-green state government. But before the new regulation could be applied for the first time, the following CDU-led government had cashed it back. The only case so far in which a minimum voting age has been raised again.
Now the SPD has launched a new legislative initiative for the right to vote from 16 in the Wiesbaden state parliament. The FDP and the Left, as well as the Social Democrats in the opposition, want to support the project. Sixteen-year-olds are already politically thinking people who should not be excluded from decisions on direction at the municipal level, says the parliamentary manager of the SPD, Günter Rudolph. The Left Party even advocates lowering the voting age to 16 in state elections; which, however, would only be possible by changing the state constitution, i.e. by means of a referendum.
Make an informed choice
The occasional accusation that the call to “vote at 16” is evidence of political opportunism seems to have been refuted since September 26th at the latest. Surprisingly, the FDP came out on top among the first-time voters in the Bundestag election. With 23 percent of the eighteen to twenty-one year olds, the Liberals were one point ahead of the Greens and thus refuted the thesis of the eco party as a supposedly natural reservoir for young voters. Which parties would ultimately benefit from lowering the voting age is less certain today than ever.
Sure, the voting age is not unchangeable. Until 1970, citizens were only allowed to vote at the age of 21. Since then, all eighteen-year-old Germans have been able to vote and be elected in federal elections. And there are undoubtedly a lot of other young people besides Greta Thunberg who would be able to make an informed choice at the age of 16 or 17. But where is the correct general age limit between common sense and common sense?