A special commission representing all parties in Parliament is winning support for its proposal to lower Norway’s voting age to 16. The commission also proposes maintaining the country’s 19 voting districts despite regional reform that cut the number of counties to 11.
“We’re building on the belief that most things are fine as they are,” said Ørnulf Rønnebæk, who led the commission and turned over its conclusions to government minister Nikolai Astrup this week. Commission members, however, who’ve been studying Norway’s voting and elections system since 2017, think the voting age should be lowered from 18 to 16, to encourage political engagement among youth.
“There’s no majority (on the commission) to lower the voting age for Parliamentary (national) elections,” Rønnebæk said, but a majority does recommend allowing 16-year-olds to vote in both municipal and county elections.
‘Expansion of democracy’
Top politicians from the Liberal Party quickly embraced the proposal, calling voting rights for 16-year-olds “an important expansion of democracy.” Trine Skei Grande, the Liberal’s outgoing leader and a former government minister, and the Liberals’ member on the comission, Sofie Høgestøl, wrote in newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday that “our democracy is utterly dependent on participation in order to function. Everyone in the country is affected by elections to both the Parliament and local councils, and everyone has a responsibility to exercise the rights we have in a free and democratic society.”
The Socialist Left party (SV) also supports the proposal and newspaper Aftenposten editorialized in favour of the new recommendation, writing that “16- and 17-year-olds should participate in municipal elections. The proposal is bold, and will face a challenge gathering majority support in Parliament, but the parties would be wise to carefully consider this.”
Aftenposten noted how 20 municipalities allowed voting from age 16 in local elections in 2011 and 2015, and results were encouraging. Voter turnout among 16- and 17-year-olds was approximately the same as that among the rest of the population eligible to vote.
Easing parliamentary representation
The commission also recommended lowering the Parliament’s so-called sperregrensen (the minimum level of voter support needed for a party to qualify for full representation in Parliament) from 4 percent to 3 percent. That would favour small parties, not least the Liberals and Christian Democrats, both of which have regularly fallen under the 4 percent level in recent public opinion polls.
The larger parties in Parliament are not likely to go along with that, according to commentators, but do seem to support maintaining current voting districts. All of the parties’ youth organizations, meanwhile, hailed the lower voting age proposal, with Ina Libak of Labour calling it “historic” and hopeful it would win majority support in Parliament itself. The last time the voting age was lowered, from 20 to 18, was in 1978.