1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Germany Ponders "Family Vote"

Nick AmiesSeptember 4, 2003

In an attempt to pass some of the responsibility of Germany's political future to those who will have to face it, a plan to give children the vote has been proposed and supported by a number of politicians.

German children could be facing tougher decisions in the future than where to play.Image: AP

A controversial proposal to give children the right to vote in national elections is drawing support from a number of influential and powerful politicians in Germany. The legislation, which is slated for introduction to parliament in autumn, would place a child’s vote in the trust of parents until it is of an “able age.”

The issue has attracted the support of a number of the German parliament’s top politicians, including parliamentary president Wolfgang Thierse of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and vice president Antje Vollmer of the Green Party. Minister for Family Affairs Renate Schmidt (SPD) has also voiced her support for the so-called "family voting rights." Even constitutional lawyers seem to be in agreement that family voting could actually benefit Germany. Former German Chancellor and president of the Federal Constitutional Court, Roman Herzog, has said he views the proposal favorably.

However, none of the major parties have come out in full support of the plan and it remains a labor of love for a handful of individuals only. But the bill's drafters, Klaus Haupt, a neo-liberal from the Free Democratic Party and his colleague, Hermann Otto Solms, are continuing to build support for the legislation.

Every fifth German excluded from elections

Aussenminister Joschka Fischer von den Grünen beginnt seinen Wahlkampf
Maybe Joschka will be lucky if the kids like Green.Image: AP

Under the plan, parents of children between the ages of 0-12 would have the right to cast the vote of their children in elections. Children aged 12 and above would hold the right to refuse their parents permission to vote on their behalf by formally informing the state of their decision to rescind the power.

“If it is written in the constitution that all power goes to the people, then children must also be given the right to vote,” the text of the bill reads. It continues to say that those who have put forward the bill, and those who support it, believe it is “unjust that every fifth German is excluded from voting in elections.”

Currently, the voting age in Germany is 18. By tapping into those below that age, the proposed bill would immediately increase the number of potential voters by 13.8 million.

Supporters of the bill say that allowing children to vote would help Germany in the future by giving the country’s youth a say in the policies that will affect them in the future. The proposal carries a statement in support of that idea: "We can only secure the future of our society, when the concept of the family is given the chance to influence politics."

“The idea would promote discussion within the family on issues that concern the children,” said Birgit Meiners, spokesperson for Bundestag Vice President Vollmer, in an interview with Deutsche Welle. “Subjects such as the environment and war are already in the consciousness of children as young as six. Families could consider these and the parents could vote for the party that supports the view of the child,” she said.

Parents would have the vote of their children.Image: Bilderbox

Meiners added that, in the case of those children who could be too young to formulate opinions, putting the power of the vote into the hands of the parents would more than likely lead to the vote being cast in support of policies that would benefit the family. However, she conceded there could be problems deciding which parent casts the child’s vote in situations where a couple held different political affiliations.

Lower the voting age?

Of course, if the plan for parental power over children’s votes proved too problematic, other alternatives exist. The most popular would be to lower the voting age. “There could be discussions of lowering the voting age to 14 in local elections and to 16 in elections where wider issues were at stake,” Meiners said.

One thing is certain: If the bill were to be approved, it would give those families with more children additional voting power. But Meiners denied criticisms that the legislation might create a disadvantage for single or childless voters. “There is no fear that singles would be discriminated against by this bill," Meiners said. "In Berlin, for example, there are more one and two person households than families. Giving the family vote will bring balance in such areas.”

Still, the bill faces numerous challenges, including a required change to the Basic Law, Germany's constitution -- a move which requires a two-thirds majority vote in both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, the country's upper legislative chamber. Meiners said it would be unlikely that the decision could be taken for at least two or three years.

The bill also faces some formidable opposition. Not all politicians are in favor of extending voting rights to the new born. SPD party leader Franz Müntefering said the voting system should not be changed and Christian Democratic Union general secretary Laurenz Meyer described the proposal as "unrealistic".