Is 16 really old enough to vote?

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at

Argentina is one of the first countries in Latin America to permit young people over the age of 16 to vote in regional and presidential elections.
Latin America’s democracies are re-inventing themselves. The latest innovation is the right to vote for teenagers in Argentina, a country where democracy has evolved in sometimes surprising ways.
Argentina is one of the few countries in the world that has adopted such a measure. Yesterday, after long debates, the House of Representatives passed the bill to expand voting rights, with 131 voting in favour, 2 against and one abstaining. The argument that was used most often was that Argentina’s democracy will be strengthened by lowering the voting age.
Political move
The new law means that more than one million 16- and 17-year-olds will have the right to vote. A revealing detail: the vast majority of this group supports President Cristina Fernández.
Fernández would like to run for re-election when her term expires in 2015. Her strategy is quite simple: in next year’s general elections, these one million young people will be able to vote. The ruling party is likely to obtain a majority in the House of Representatives, making it possible for it to push through constitutional reforms. This would enable Fernández to run again for president.
Example for other countries?
But just how far can political leaders go to cling on to power? In recent years, various Latin American rulers have taken unorthodox steps, often in violation of the constitution, to remain in power. So it’s possible that other countries in the continent will follow Argentina’s example and lower the voting age.
The arguments in favour of this sound convincing: if teenagers are allowed to elect their representatives and presidents, they’ll become more mature, both in terms of their knowledge of civics and democracy.
RNW survey
In recent days, RNW’s Latin American Department has been carrying out a survey on social media sites about whether 16- and 17-year-olds are mature enough to vote. One of the respondents, Ángel Bernal, wrote “what worries me is that TV alienates young people. It reduces their capacity for political analysis. Television in Latin America is controlled by the owners of multinationals, and they determine which government comes to power. If the voting age is lowered even more, we’ll soon see alienated teenagers who believe they’re living in a democracy.”
For his part, Juan José Martínez in Ecuador believes that “it would be an interesting way of measuring the real impact of social media because young people dominate them. They’re sick and tired of corruption. They’re mature enough to question traditions.”
Antigonum Caján takes a more pragmatic view: “since young people aren’t getting an education or won’t ever find a job when they become adults, let them at least have the illusion that they can elect a government which will rob them blind. Afterwards they can emigrate.”
José Robert Escamilla thinks the voting age should be raised to 21. “It’s said that that’s when people’s brains become fully developed. Before then, people often make decisions based on emotions.”
Delmi Euceda responds by saying, “I don’t think that age has anything to do with whether you are mature enough to vote. There are 30- and 40-year-olds who don’t know anything about voting.”
Finally, Victor Hugo Montero, a Venezuelan economics student, writes: “the new law has both positive and negative aspects. It’s good because everyone will have the right to express their opinion, and so society will become more equal and pluralistic. But the downside is that young people are more susceptible to manipulation. That’s the case in Argentina because the government adopted this law for political reasons. In authoritarian countries like mine, the issue is not being discussed in terms of increasing people’s involvement in politics, but rather as a way of making it easier to manipulate people because they no longer have any reference points.”