On Friday, students are once again taking to Switzerland’s streets to demand action from politicians in the fight against global warming. The young activists are also calling for the voting age in Switzerland to be lowered from 18 to 16. Politician Adrian Spahr is against such a move.
Twenty-six years ago, the voting age at the federal level was reduced from 20 to 18. One of the hopes was a higher turnout. This hope was in vain. Nevertheless, I found that particular age reduction to be logical.
I feel differently about lowering the voting age to 16. In my opinion, 16-year-olds are just not ready. They can and should participate in political discussions or join a political party; however, the right to vote is too important and too big of a responsibility to be exercised at the age of 16. It’s a great privilege that is unknown in this form elsewhere in the world. I do not want to impose this great responsibility on 16-year-olds.
Clear signals at the ballot box
This was also the opinion of voters in the canton of Bern: in 2009, 75.4% of them came out against changing the voting age to 16. A more recent and even clearer example can be found in canton Basel Country, where last year lowering the voting age to 16 was rejected by 84.5% of voters.
Glarus is the only canton in Switzerland to have a voting age of 16: since 2007, 16 and 17-year-olds have also been able to participate in votes at a cantonal level. Although there are no precise figures on their participation, there is nothing to suggest that they contribute to a higher turnout.
Rights and duties
According to the Swiss Civil Code, a person can act with legal authority if he or she has reached full legal age and is capable of judgement. Before that, a person has limited capacity to act in a legal context. Spirits may also only be purchased from the age of 18. Such examples are used to distinguish between 16 and 18-year-olds in some areas of jurisprudence.
A 16-year-old is also more easily influenced – for example, by teachers who seek to indoctrinate a certain viewpoint. This is unmistakably clear in the case where the teaching staff at one upper secondary school in canton Bern declared participation in the climate strikes to be mandatory.
Political maturity and turnout
In order to be able to judge the sometimes very complex voting documents, a certain political maturity is required. This is certainly not the case when it comes to the education of today's average 16-year-old, since the school curriculum deals with this topic relatively late in Swiss schooling. But changing the curriculum is not the answer and would not be appropriate.
Moreover, there is a constant struggle with low voter turnout in Swiss elections and votes. Statisticians and political scientists remark that voters under the age of 30 are particularly "lazy", with participation well below the average compared to other age groups.
If Swiss citizens aged 16 and older were allowed to vote, I fear that the turnout would fall even further. This, in turn, damages our democracy and its legitimacy.
Finally, left-wing circles fighting for changing the voting age to 16 often accuse our party of only being against it because young people tend to vote left. I would like to reject this accusation, as it has been proven, for example by a professor at the University of Lausanneexternal link (link in German), that the Swiss People’s Party is very popular with those aged 18 and older.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of swissinfo.ch.
Translated from German by Veronica DeVore