Israeli Ministers to Consider Bill That Would Lower Voting Age to 17

The legislation, which has broad political support, is an effort to boost voter turnout rates, but one think tank warns it could do the opposite.

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Ballots behind a voting booth at a polling station.Credit: Tess Scheflan

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is due to decide on Sunday whether to support a proposed law that would lower the voting age from 18 to 17 in an effort to boost the voter turnout rate, which in last year's Knesset election was 72.3 percent.

In addition to sponsorship by three coalition Knesset members, Yakov Margi of Shas, Nurit Koren of Likud and Merav Ben Ari of Kulanu, the bill, proponents of which say 17-year olds are sufficiently mature to vote, has the support of legislators from the Joint Arab List, Yesh Atid and the Zionist Union.

It's not clear, however, whether lowering the voting age would boost voter turnout rates. Experts from the Israel Democracy Institute submitted a paper to members of the ministerial committee that included a series of data purporting to show that it could have the opposite effect. In addition to apathy among younger Western voters in recent decades, the paper also cited the results in countries that lowered their voting ages.

In Argentina, there were indications of a marginally positive effect, with a turnout rate of 79 percent in elections in 2011 and 81 percent in 2015, after the voting age was lowered to 16. In Austria, in 2006, before the voting age was reduced, the turnout was 78.5 percent; after the change, in 2008, the rate was up slightly to 78.8 percent, but then in 2013, it dropped to 74.9 percent. And data from Britain and Canada show particularly low turnouts among young voters.

Scholars from the Israel Democracy Institute acknowledge that it is difficult to predict what effect lowering the voting age in the country might have on turnout rates. "It could be that interest in elections by high school students who are in a regular, lively daily social setting will be high and maybe they will turn out to vote in nice numbers. It can also be assumed that the Education Ministry will provide lessons during an election year that will encourage voting."

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