I Voted—Now Get Off my Lawn!

J'ai Voté: NeuchâtelIn Switzerland, we’re always voting on something.  Under the system of direct democracy, federal legislation adopted by the parliament can be subjected to a popular veto in a referendum which can be required through only 50,000 signatures (around 1.2% of eligible voters).  Amendments to the federal constitution require a mandatory referendum.  With the signatures of 100,000 eligible voters (around 2.5% of the electorate), an initiative amending the federal constitution is placed before the parliament, which can either recommend or reject the initiative, with, in the latter case, the option of proposing an alternative (“counter-project”).  In any case, the issue is placed before the voters, who get to choose among the initiative amendment, the counter-project, or outright rejection of both.  In a referendum on vetoing a parliamentary act, a simple majority of the nationwide vote is required to reject the law, while for constitutional amendments a “double majority” consisting of a majority of the national popular vote and a majority of cantons based upon the popular vote within each canton is required.

A similar system exists at the two lower levels of government as well: canton and commune.  Each individual jurisdiction makes its own rules, but in general the threshold for a referendum or initiative is around 1% of the eligible electorate.  The population of the canton of Neuchâtel, where I live, is around 176,000, so subtracting off foreigners who are not permanent residents and children, it only takes around 1500 signatures to put an initiative or referendum on the ballot, and it isn’t that difficult to get that many signatures for just about anything.  I recall votes over the years on issues such as whether the bike lanes on the main street through Neuchâtel should be abolished and whether advertising shown before the feature in movie theatres should be banned.

On February 9, 2020, residents of Neuchâtel are called to pronounce on the latest issue: modifying the cantonal constitution to extend the right to vote to those 16 years and older, from the current requirement of 18.  Here is the brochure about the issue [PDF].  This was a popular initiative brought by 6,624 signatures.  The parliament (Grand Conseil), accepted the initiative by a vote of 59 to 46, and the executive (Conseil d’État, 5 members elected  every four years) also approved it.  As a constitutional amendment, it must now be submitted to the people.  I voted early.

Votes for 16 year olds: NON

The political parties are split in their recommendations, with five parties recommending a No vote and four in favour (details are on page 6 of the brochure I linked above).  In general, the right is opposed and the left is for.

What do you think of the idea of 16-year-olds voting?

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Author: John Walker

Founder of Ratburger.org, Autodesk, Inc., and Marinchip Systems. Author of The Hacker's Diet. Creator of www.fourmilab.ch.

9 thoughts on “I Voted—Now Get Off my Lawn!”

  1. Well, I don’t know what Swiss teens are like, nor how they are regarded.  But here in our country, we consider a 16 year old just barely eligible to drive, way too young to drink or smoke, too young to be able to give consent to sex, and too young to enter into binding contracts.
    Unless those disabilities of infancy are removed, I don’t think they should be able to vote, either.  They really have not made any  choices or decisions yet, not ones we respect, not ones that matter to anybody.  If we don’t trust ‘em to rule their own bodies and their own obligations, why would we trust ‘em to have a voice in government?

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  2. I would make one exception for us, but it may not be relevant to the Swiss. I would submit that anyone serving on active duty in the Armed Forces should have the right to vote. I don’t know at what age the Swiss induct their people into the service.

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  3. I’d change the voting age to 30 25.  Same as the qualifying age to be a congressman.  And I’d lower the drinking/smoking/vaping age to 18.  Let adults do what they please to themselves.  Doing unto your fellow citizens should require more maturity.

    I’m not opposed to an exception for active duty military and honorably discharged veterans.

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  4. Devereaux:
    I don’t know at what age the Swiss induct their people into the service.

    In Switzerland, the minimum age for voluntary enlistment in the Army is 18, and able-bodied males are conscripted at 19.

    The argument advanced by supporters of the initiative (page 4 in the brochure I linked in the main post), includes the statement that at age 16, those who work are subject to taxation and contribution to retirement and unemployment insurance, can obtain licenses to drive certain classes of vehicles, buy and consume alcohol, and are considered adults for sexual activity.

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  5. John Walker:
    The argument advanced by supporters of the initiative (page 4 in the brochure I linked in the main post), includes the statement that at age 16, those who work are subject to taxation and contribution to retirement and unemployment insurance, can obtain licenses to drive certain classes of vehicles, buy and consume alcohol, and are considered adults for sexual activity.

    If I could start from scratch I could do 16 with the provision that it also requires paying a certain amount of taxes. That requirement has much room for considering multiple votes for increasing levels of tax paid but probably would make sense to have just a few levels, may from 1 to 5 or something like that. With all the push towards political socialism in countries it makes sense to try to make it work.  What makes socialism work in small groups like families is that there is a power base usually related to who has resources, in other words who pays. That’s how I would get to favoring voting for those who pay the bills associated with the functions of government.

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  6. I think if someone is contributing to the country at a young age by paying taxes or service they should be allowed to vote. The normal 16 year old is not ready to vote.

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  7. Only if they are paying taxes or serving in the military should a 16-year-old be voting.

    I would favor raising our voting age to 21.

    I like the idea of reserving voting to taxpayers.   I like the idea of multiple votes.

    Mostly what I want is to see current voting laws get enforced.

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  8. In the election on Sunday, 2020-02-09, the initiative «Pour le droit de vote à 16 ans sur demande» was rejected by voters with 58.52% (27,986 votes) opposed versus 41.48% (19,835) in favour.  Participation in the election was 35.22% of eligible voters.

    Two federal measures were also voted on in that election.  As a permanent resident but not a Swiss citizen, I can vote in elections at the cantonal and commune levels, but not for candidates for federal office or on federal initiatives of referenda.

    The first item was a referendum concerning amendments to the penal and military codes to prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation.  These were adopted by the federal government on 2018-12-14 but challenged by a popular referendum.  The referendum to approve the amendments passed by 63.1% for and 36.9% against in the popular vote, with 23 cantons voting in favour and 3 opposed.

    The second was a leftist popular initiative to wreck the housing market by creating subsidies for construction of low-rent apartments.  This was defeated by a popular vote of 57.1% no versus 42.9% yes, with 16 5/2 cantons opposed and 4 1/2 in favour.  (Switzerland has regular cantons and half-cantons.  A half canton has one senator instead of two, and a vote of 1/2 in the majority by cantons.)

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