In May 2015, the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia was amended and the age of voting in local government elections was lowered. 16 and 17-year-olds were able to vote for the first time in October 2017. This year, on October 17, young people aged 16 and 17 participated in the local government elections already for the second time. Many of the candidates were young people aged 18-20, some of them were as presumed elected with the support of young people's votes and have participated in the work of local government councils for the last 4 years.
The change is well received by society. Political parties and electoral blocs are paying increased attention to the development of policies aimed at young people and, more importantly, to the involvement of young people in the development of these policies. At the same time, the interests of young people are now more represented in the local election programs of political parties and electoral blocks. Among the candidates of political parties, there are more young candidates than before, with whom young voters have more opportunities to identify. National and local youth organizations are actively analyzing the programs of political parties and electoral blocks before the elections and looking for promises to young people, and the press has also begun to ask about the promises of political parties and politicians to the young voter.
We think that Estonia is ready to lower the voting age to 16 also in the parliamentary elections. There are about 24,000 young people aged 16 and 17 in Estonia, the Parliament's 5% electoral threshold is about 29,000 votes, which shows that the representation of young people in elections can provide a very important platform for parties that can develop important policies for young people and thus give their votes a representation in society.
In the parliamentary elections, political interest is at the moment inevitably inclined towards the older generations. According to Statistics Estonia, there is 0.78 people aged 65+ per young person (7-26 years old) in Estonia. However, for one young person of voting age (18-26 years old), we have 1.42 elderly people. By lowering the voting age, the ratio per young person of voting age would be 1.22 elderly.
In Europe, the right to vote at the age of 16 has been in place for a long time in Austria. There, young people have been able to vote since 2007. The experience of Austria so far also confirms that young people's interest in politics grows after the right to vote has been granted, while young people's voting behavior is not radically different from the average. As a result of the change, the topics important to young people 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 states have reduced their voting age to 16 – no negative consequences of lowering the voting age have been identified. In 2018, the voting age was reduced to 16 also in Malta, where Parliament approved the bill unanimously. Malta's broad support for this bill illustrates that this is not a partisan issue, but one that requires cross-party cooperation to ensure the involvement of young people in shaping the future.
Positive consequences of lowering the age of candidacy and voting:
- Young people will receive more attention in society and in legislation. Young people will be more involved in the development of electoral programs, their opportunities in policy-making and law-making diversify, and their interests are better represented and protected.
- Young people become more active in society: their reflection on societal issues grows, active young people can find an outlet and also a future career in politics.
- Civic education at school becomes closer to life. Through participation in elections, young people gain a personal civic education experience through which they are more involved in policy-making and analysis at both local and national levels. Potentially, it will also increase their loyalty to Estonia and their homeland, and a better personal perception of civic duties and responsibilities will develop.
- The generation gap in policy design and content narrows.
Based on the fact that candidates aged 18-20 have already been able to successfully run at local elections twice, we consider it unreasonable that the age of candidacy in the parliamentary elections is still 21 years. Some of these young politicians who are already participating in local government management or councils may also want to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections. We believe that the experience of these young people, as well as the experience of their active young peers, should also find its way into national politics.
In the 2017 local government council elections, young people ran for election in 75 local governments out of 79 and 37 young candidates were elected in 30 local governments across Estonia. These young people have made an invaluable contribution to the development of the local community through their work in local government councils. A survey of Statistics Estonia revealed that the most active young candidates were in smaller counties and they were more educated than their peers, studied more and were also more active in the labor market.
Both young candidates and voters clearly showed their will to get involved in the Estonian political landscape also in the local government council elections of 2021. There were a total of 177 candidates aged 18-20 and a total of 10,519 voters aged 16-17 across Estonia. However, in the upcoming parliamentary elections, the current constitutional order will leave these same active young people without a vote.
Young people aged 16 already have the right to make extensive decisions about their body, health, education and personal future and bear criminal responsibility in Estonia. It is clear that these same young people must also be involved in social and political decision-making processes, and that they must also be given the right to decide on the future of their country and their living environment.
We live in an aging society, where the proportion of young people in the population is declining compared to the proportion of older people. This demographic situation is making it increasingly difficult for young people to find a voice in our society, which is why topics that are important to them tend to be left out of the political discourse. This is frustrating and may later lead to a decline in active citizenship and a loss of interest in politics.
Increasing the participation of young people in elections by lowering the voting age and enabling them to run would help to create a society where the input of young people is welcome and the active contribution of young people is valued. Young people are our future, it is time to involve them in shaping our future! With this petition, we propose to amend §57 and §60 of the Estonian Constitution in order to lower the general voting age to the age of 16 and the age of candidacy to the age of 18.
We call on all Estonian policy makers, citizens' and youth associations, political parties and all Estonian residents to publicly support this petition.
Cover design: Marite Kuus
Translated by Tali Kletter / Tõlkis Tali Kletter