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The Constitutional Committee of the Riigikogu has supported lowering the voting age at local elections from 18 to 16, and will introduce the relevant Bill to the first reading at the next week’s session of the Riigikogu.

The aim of the Bill on Amending the Constitution to Lower the Voting Age at Local Elections (703 SE), initiated by 41 members of the Riigikogu, is to involve young people in discussions and decision-making about local life by lowering the voting age. The lowering of the voting age requires a Constitutional amendment. The initiators of the draft legislation have foreseen that the amendment has to be approved by two successive Riigikogus in order to be implemented.

Rait Maruste, Chairman of the Constitutional Committee and one of the initiators of the amendment, noted that non-citizens also have the right to vote at local elections, as is well known. “One of the benefits of the Bill, besides the greater involvement of young people in decision-making about public issues, is that it would give non-citizens a greater opportunity to participate in the life of Estonia and thereby contribute to the further integration of our society,” added Mr Maruste.

The initiators note in the explanatory memorandum that because of the ageing population, older generations have more weight at elections and decisions on youth issues are increasingly being made by older people. Lowering the voting age would increase the proportion of young people among those with voting rights.

There are about 24,000 young people aged between 16 and 18 in Estonia. If 60 % of them voted, the number of voters would increase by 14,000-15,000 people.

According to the explanatory memorandum, the amendment is expected to increase young people’s interest in politics, national and local development. The majority of decisions concerning young people, such as decisions on the school network, sports facilities and leisure facilities, are made at the local level.

Vice-Chairman of the Constitutional Committee Tarmo Tamm said at the meeting of the Committee that he objected to the Constitutional amendment on lowering the voting age. “Instead, we should make use of the youth councils, which are provided for by the current legislation, and involve them more in the work of local government councils, thereby involving young people in decision-making and social life,” said Tamm.

If the Bill passes the first reading by the Riigikogu, the second reading is planned for December, and the third reading, or final vote, for January of next year. The new Riigikogu would then approve the amendment, and young people aged 16 and 17 years could vote at the 2017 local elections.