How old is old enough to vote?
According to the votersÂ’ rights commission, Valgretskommission, the answer is 16.
After two years of study, the multi-party commission Â– which includes members of all the political parties, as well as experts in civics and political science Â– presented parliament on Thursday with a list of 28 recommendations to strengthen young peopleÂ’s participation in the democratic process.
One of those recommendations is to lower the legal voting age for local, regional and parliamentary elections from 18 to 16.
Â“This is the way we should go if we want to broaden our democracy. We want to get as many people as possible engaged, and a legal voting age of 16 will help do that,Â” said the commissionÂ’s chairman Mogens Jensen (Socialdemokraterne).
While a majority of ValgretkommissionÂ’s members support the recommendation, MPs from the right-of-centre opposition parties Venstre and Konservative remained skeptical.
Â“The moment you get the right to vote, youÂ’re an adult and youÂ’re responsible, and we just donÂ’t think we should press that age downwards any further,Â” said VenstreÂ’s political spokesperson Ellen Trane NÃ¸rby.
But people who are old enough to choose their educations, work full-time, buy alcohol, and be sent to prison, are socially and civically mature enough to vote for the policies that affect them, argued the majority of the commissionÂ’s members.
The left-of-centre government is cautiously supportive of the proposal and wants to give it a trial run with the next European parliament elections in 2014.
Â“We in the Radikale are not totally convinced, but we are very interested to try it out first as an experiment,Â” said the RadikaleÂ’s Zenia Stampe, a Valgretskommission member. Â“That would give us a more qualified foundation to base a decision on.Â”
Officially changing DenmarkÂ’s legal voting age requires approval by parliament and passing a public referendum. But the public referendum is not required to allow 16-year-olds to vote in the European parliament elections. ThatÂ’s why the commission feels it could be a good test case.
The constitution states that anyone who can vote is also eligible to run for office, so unless the constitution is also changed, lowering the legal voting age to 16 would also mean that 16-year-olds could run for office.
Under current law, people are first allowed to vote and run for office at age 18. But even though 18- to 30-year-olds comprise 20 percent of the population, only five percent of city council members are in that young age group.
The under-representation of young people in local politics is one thing Valgretskommission aimed to address with its 28 recommendations.
Similarly, the new government also promised in its common policy framework, published on October 3, to Â“create a groundwork for seeking young peopleÂ’s participation in local electionsÂ”.
The government now appears to be ready to make good on that promise.
If Denmark does try to lower the voting age to 16, it will be following in its Scandinavian sisterÂ’s footsteps. In September Â– just two months after the politically-motivated terror attacks on the Norwegian SocialdemokratÂ’s youth camp on UtÃ¸ya island Â– 20 Norwegian councils allowed 16- and 17-year olds to vote for the first time in their local elections.
Prior to that just 8.3 percent of the participating townsÂ’ council members were between 18 and 30 years old. Afterwards the percentage rose to 14. At the same time, the Norwegian councils that allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to vote saw the highest ever voter turnout in a local election among people under 30 at 57 percent.
DenmarkÂ’s legal voting age has dropped steadily over time. In 1953 it dropped from 25 to 23. In 1961 it was again lowered to 21. In 1971 it became 20. In 1978 it was reset at its current 18. Is 16 next?
It was only in 1915 that women, servants and the poor were given the right to vote.