The Malta Independent 21 January 2018, Sunday

TMID Editorial: Vote-16 - One age to vote and another to contest?

Friday, 8 December 2017, 10:09 Last update: about 2 months ago

The 2019 European parliamentary elections are set to break new ground for Malta twice-over: the country is scheduled to undergo its first experience in electronic vote counting, and 16-year-olds will be given the facility to vote for the first time in a national election.

The Prime Minister yesterday announced that a White Paper on the subject will be published come March and that, by the 2019 MEP election Malta should be able to add close to 5,000 16- and 17-years-olds to the electoral register.

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Should this come to pass, Malta will be the second EU state to allow 16-year-olds to vote for their MEPs, the other country being Austria, which had made the move in 2007.  After that milestone, the age limit for voting in national general elections would also presumably be decreased.

In Malta 16-year-olds have been given the right to vote in their respective local council elections, and it may just be time now to start considering giving 16-year-olds the right to also run for office in the elections in which they will be able to vote. 

After all, the fact that someone can vote in an election that they cannot contest is something of a paradox.

When it comes to the MEP elections, there does not seem to be anything preventing Malta from fielding a 16-year-old candidate since the minimum age to vote and stand for election is down to national law.  Across the EU, the minimum age for candidates is 18, with the exceptions being Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia (21), Romania (23), and Italy and Greece (25).

The White Paper the government plans to publish next March will obviously need to consider both voting age and standing age.

There are several other arguments in favour, and several, against reducing the voting age threshold but so far the issue does not appear to be a very contentious one. After all, in Malta at 16 years of age one can marry, leave school, seek full time employment and consequently begin to pay taxes.  But, on the other hand, a 16-year-old would have to wait another year to buy alcohol and another two years to be able to drive.

It can be reasonably argued that once a person is eligible to pay taxes, one should also be eligible to have some sort of say on how those taxes are spent.  Another argument in favour of reducing the voting age is that it would increase the size of the electorate, since people are more likely to maintain the habit of voting throughout their lives if they start at a younger age.

But, more importantly, a reduction in the voting age will undoubtedly help to catch potential political activists when they are still young, and help them become the types of active citizens that will take this country upward and onward in the decades to come.

Most will remember with pride the day they first cast a vote, it marked a turning point toward becoming a responsible citizen and it takes one’s interest in the way in which this country is run to a whole new level.  And if we can get more people to be of that mindset two years earlier than at present, the benefits of creating such ‘aware’ citizens could be multiple and multifaceted.

Lowering the voting age makes a great deal of sense. It gives more responsibility to the electorate two years earlier than at present and it starts building the type of civically-active, responsible and politically-active citizens that this country, any country, certainly needs more of.

But at what age the government will allow people to begin standing for election remains to be seen and this will presumably be one of the highlights of the White Paper being drafted, and a prospect that some of today’s younger teenagers should be casting a hopeful eye toward.

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