Redefining the Youth Bloc: Giving 16-Year-Olds the Vote

A decision to lower the voting age from 18 is making waves in Argentina.
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La Casa Rosada, the seat of Argentina's executive branch. (PHOTO: )

La Casa Rosada, the seat of Argentina's executive branch. (PHOTO: )

As American voters witnessed last week, the Facebook generation’s political punch can’t be taken lightly. With an estimated 23 million young voters coming to the polls, it was the bloc of 21- to 29-year-olds that kept key states Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania from turning red.

In Argentina, the ruling party has taken these trends to heart. Its Congress just lowered the voting age from 18 to 16, enabling more than one million new voters to take part in 2013 mid-term elections. Voting will be voluntary for the new age bracket;  voters over the age of 18, meanwhile, are required by law to head to the polls.

The new youth vote could smooth the way for Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to pass a constitutional amendment allowing her to run for a third term in 2015. Fernández will need the support of a two-thirds majority in Congress for this to happen, and there’s evidence that those seats could be decided by the new votes of 16- and 17-year-olds.

Despite plummeting approval ratings overall, Fernández appears to remain popular within a younger circle, as suggested by the vocal members of “La Campora,” a government youth group founded by her son Máximo Kirchner that has rallied with “Cristina Forever” banners.  Fernández has placed members of “La Campora” into top government positions and even hooked up students with free laptops by tapping into social security funds. Further political muscle includes control of major airline Areolineas Argentina and access to public school rooms where—through a game—kids are taught that newspapers are the enemy of the president. (To read La Nacion’s coverage you may want to refresh your high school Spanish.)

But when one group rallies, another can protest louder.  This past week thousands of demonstrators packed Buenos Aires to protest against rising inflation, high crime rates, and government corruption. The catalyst for this massive march? The possibility of the constitutional amendment.

An economy still struggling from the crisis of 2001 and a nation with a long history of political corruption, Argentina is no stranger to political protests. And while Fernández has not explicitly stated that she will attempt to run for a third term, that the government can be molded to make this possible has many Argentines fed up with the Casa Rosada.

Oh, and while new 16-year old voters can affect the upcoming trajectory of Argentine politics, they’ll still have to wait another two years before legally purchasing a Fernet and Coke.

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