Vote for 16-year-olds: where to start?

A proposal by the newly elected secretary of the PD Enrico Letta reopens an old debate: is it right to extend the right to vote to those who have turned 16?


Enrico Letta's proposal

Once the entire democratic world was aligned with universal suffrage, in the first half of the last century, in almost all countries the minimum age to go to the polls was 21.

It was only after the youth protests of the 1960s that the right to vote was extended to eighteen-year-olds: for example in Italy this happened in 1975, under the Moro IV government.

After almost fifty years, the debate to extend the right to vote in a progressively more inclusive way has not yet ended.

The latest proposal was launched by Enrico Letta in the speech that preceded his election as new secretary of the PD, in which he spoke of extending the vote to sixteen-year-olds.

This is not a new topic either for Letta, who had already talked about it in 2019, or for the public debate in general: the proposal had indeed already been put forward by the League in 2015 and before that by Veltroni in 2007.

The positions are therefore not linked to political color and see authoritative arguments both in favor of the proposal and against it.

The reasons for the NO

One of the main arguments of those who declare themselves opposed to extending the right to vote to sixteen-year-olds is the belief that at that age one cannot necessarily be mature, aware and sensitive to public dynamics in order to cast a critical conscience vote. Development psychologist Anna Oliverio Ferraris, in an interview with La Stampa on March 16, says that at 16 "there is still a lot of immaturity and impulsiveness: [sixteen-year-olds] let themselves be dominated by emotions, it is easy to influence their opinions and exploit them".

Another point concerns the legal aspect: as explained by the president emeritus of the Constitutional Court Cesare Mirabelli, lowering the age for voting means intervening on Article 2 of the Civil Code (the one that establishes the attainment of the age of majority at 18), or by directly modifying Article 48 of the Constitution, which binds the right to vote to majority age. In both cases, explains Mirabelli, problems would be encountered: if the constitution were changed, a disharmonious situation would arise in which "to carry out an act, such as voting, which has an almost greater significance than the others", an age below that required for example to drive the car. If we were to operate on the Civil Code, however, it would necessarily be necessary to lower the threshold of majority age as a whole, with all the consequences of the case: there would be effects for the married age, the age at which one has full criminal responsibility would be lowered, and “also surrounding regulations such as those of a social security nature” would change, continues Mirabelli, concluding that “if we want to proceed in this direction we need an intervention that harmonises the entire system”.

The reasons for YES

The arguments in favor of extending the right to vote generally start from the demographic issue: the Cattaneo Institute illustrates with a report the phenomenon of "generational pincers": the progressive imbalance between young people (18-35 years old) and the elderly (understood as over 65), which draws an ever wider gap; even lowering the voting age, the electoral weight of the former would remain more than 2 million lower than that of the latter. The director of the Political Science Department of the University of Cambridge, David Runciman, identifies this demographic phenomenon as a serious crisis for democracies.

"Young people are constantly outnumbered, given that the voting age is 18", Runciman explains, "the right to vote is not lost when you reach the age of 75. You can continue to vote until the day of your death and without having to take any tests".

Runciman also points out that if the age for voting were not lowered, the political task would be left to "people who will not live in the future and can only take care of the most immediate present"; this perspective would certainly be problematic as regards all issues, such as the environmental one, which primarily concern the younger generations.

Where to start to involve the youngest?

What data do we have, at this point, to determine whether a possible extension of the right to vote to sixteen-year-olds can be good for democracy or not?

The Electoral Studies journal examined the case of Austria, the first European country to lower the age threshold to 16 in 2007. The published study shows that the quality of the vote (understood as the level of information and political awareness) of a sixteen or seventeen year old voter does not differ from that of an adult voter, and that the reasons for abstention in the 16-18 age group do not depend on a lack of motivation or political ability.

In our political present, where we often (and sometimes inappropriately) talk about the future and where we begin to seriously plan for investments in the environment, the generation of Greta Thumberg certainly has a say. However, it will be crucial to provide these potential new voters with the tools they need to understand the present, and not treat them as a mere constituency; on this point both supporters and detractors of the extension of the right to vote agree: political integration must start from the school.


1. Fonte Sole 24 Ore:

2. Fonte La Stampa:

3. Fonte La Stampa:

4. Fonte Huffington Post:

5. Fonte report Istituto Cattaneo:

6. Fonte The Guardian:

7. Fonte Electoral Studies journal:

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  • L'Autore

    Francesco Marchesetti

    Studente di Lettere Moderne.
    Aspirante giornalista, certo che l'informazione libera debba essere un diritto universale.

    Student in Modern Literature.
    Aspiring journalist, certain that freedom of information should be a universal right.


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