In May 2015, the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia was amended and the voting age was lowered in local government elections. For the first time, 16- and 17-year-olds were able to go to the polls in October 2017.

ENL has compiled its model for the implementation of post-election on lowering the voting age activities, which may be found here: ENL’s model for the lowering of the voting age (In Estonian).

Giving the right to vote to 16-year-olds is important because…

    • … The interest of politicians is currently rather leaning towards the interests of the elderly. There is 0.78 elderly people (Estonian resident aged 65+) per an Estonian young person (Estonian resident aged 7-26), but 1.42 elderly people per a young person of voting age (18-26). Thus, in today’s world, the interest of politicians is clearly inclined towards the elderly. By lowering the voting age, the ratio per a young person of voting age would be 1.22 of the elderly.
    • … Young people make at least as mature decisions as adults. Based on a study completed in 2009 on the political maturity of 14-15-year-olds and relations with political parties, Tallinn University lecturer Anu Toots stated that 14-year-olds already understand how the society works. Thus, it can be argued that 16- and 17- year-olds make the same or more mature decisions than adults. This is also supported by the general picture, where many rights and obligations fall on young people earlier than the age of majority.
    • … It enhances the connection to their place of home. As higher education institutions are usually located in centres of attraction, voting in local government elections before moving to a centre of attraction gives the young person some responsibility for developing their place of home. This creation of cohesion also increases the likelihood that these young people will return to their homes later and reduce mass urbanisation.

    • … It has not had any negative consequences – quite the contrary. In Austria, the voting age since 2007 is 16 years. The Austrian experience shows that young people’s interest in politics grew, young people’s electoral behavior did not differ radically from the average, and young people’s issues became more of a public interest. An analysis carried out by the Ministry of Justice in 2011 found that in Austria and Germany – where some Länder have lowered the voting age to 16 – no negative consequences have been identified for lowering the voting age.
    • … Disasters do not follow. Approximately 24,000 16- and 17-year-olds alone cannot help any extremists to power with their own votes – even if they all live in the same constituency and elect one candidate. The nationwide 5% threshold for the 2011 Riigikogu elections was almost 29,000 votes.

What does empowering young people to vote bring about?

    • More attention will be paid to young people in society and in the creation of legislation.
    • Young people are becoming more socially active: they are thinking along with solving social issues, their involvement in the third sector and their connection with their place of home is heightening.
    • The civic education provided by the school becomes closer to real life. At the same time, it must be ensured that teachers remain politically neutral.
    • Young people get a very good civic education experience, which increments their loyalty to Estonia and their place of home, and they get used to being good citizens.
    • The Estonian young people’s worldview is falling into place by the end of secondary school, which is why they are more secure and thereby more successful members of society in their future education or job choice.
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