The national government is pushing for reforms to the electoral code, to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 years, and to allow for permanent residents to vote in national elections.
Frente para la Victoria (FPV) senator Anibal Fernández and deputies Jorge Yoma and Diana Conti, introduced bills in Congress to make voting optional for 16 to 18-year olds. Frente Amplio Progresista (FAP) deputies also introduced a similar bill. At the moment, voting is compulsory for people over the age of 18, and optional for people over 70.
The move has been controversial, with opinions split regarding the ability of 16-year olds to exercise this democratic right, and the government’s intentions for introducing this reform.
Opposition members have accused the government of trying to reform the electoral code in order to obtain more votes in the next election. Deputy Francisco de Narváez, from Frente Peronista, said that “wanting to get 16-year olds to vote is an electoral maneuver to increase the number of voters.” Radical deputy Mario Negri said that “only five countries in the world allow for optional voting for over-16s. This cannot be simplified, we must analyse the proposal and make sure the rights also match the responsibilities.”
The principal of the Buenos Aires National school (a high school owned by the University of Buenos Aires) argued that 16-year olds are “in no condition to vote,” because “they are still being formed as citizens and have a lot to learn.”
Senator Fernández defended the bill, saying that voting does not depend on age, but on the person’s “vocation and interest.” He also said that, according to some polls, “40 to 50% of young people [between 16 and 18 years of age] would be willing to vote.” The bill itself mentions the cases of Brazil, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Ecuador as having a similar policy, and assures that it has been positive. People over 16, says the introduction to the bill, “possess a level of information that allows them to form their own opinions.”
Fernández also ruled out the possibility of the potential new voters being “manipulated” into voting for the government, saying no one can be sure of how people will vote. “You have to know how to talk, go out there, and each has to present their political ideas,” he said.
The government hopes to pass these changes into law before the end of the year. However, it will need a special majority to be able to change electoral laws. Some opposition groups have agreed with the changes. Socialist deputy Roy Cortina said “I agree with this initiative. In principle, without knowing many details, I’d be willing to discuss it and support it, as long as [voting] is optional.”
FAP introduced a similar bill to that of the FPV, one which had already been introduced in 2010. The bill states that “it’s contradictory to establish that young people can assume as adults their eventual responsibility over criminal acts, without also considering that they should have the right to express and become involved as citizens in the construction of political proposals that include them.” It also encourages political participation in young people as a way to integrate them into society and even decreasing their participation in criminal activities.
Senator Fernández also introduced a bill to allow foreign permanent residents to vote on national elections. Potential voters should have at least two years’ permanent residency in the country.
Many provinces and the City of Buenos Aires already allow foreigners to vote on local and provincial elections, but they are still excluded from electing president and members of Congress. The bill justifies the decision by stating that “if we take into account the collective decisions will be applied to foreigners [who live in the country], logic mandates that their opinions should be considered.” Voting would be optional for foreigners.
If both initiatives are made into law, an estimated 2.5 million people will be added to the voting population: 1.5 million youngsters and 1 million permanent residents.