Millions of 16- and 17 years olds vote in Brazilian Presidential Election, but no President Elected

by Mike MacNevin // Published October 23, 2014

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Brazilians flocked to the polls on October 5 to vote for their next president. Yet, after all the votes were counted, no one was elected.  In fact, there will be no new president-elect until after a second round runoff vote, which will occur on October 26th.

The incumbent, Dilma Rousseff, gained 42% of the national vote in the first round election, well short of the 50% required to win. In second place, with 34% of the vote, was Aecio Neves.  Immediately after the election, opinion polls had shown Neves trailing Rousseff, the protege of the extremely popular former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, by a large margin. However, the third place candidate, Marina Silva’s backing of Neves has changed all that. Silva won 21% of the vote, and it seems many of Silva’s supporters have gravitated toward Neves. Polls are now neck and neck.

Runoff elections double the expense of holding elections. They also tend to return the plurality winner from the first round, making the expense of a second election seem unnecessary. In the United States, FairVote advocates for the use of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) as a better -- and cheaper -- method of ensuring voters get a meaningful say in elections, eliminating the spoiler effect and maximizing the likelihood that winning candidates have majority support.

The Brazilian election is interesting for another reason: millions of Brazilian 16 and 17-year-olds, from Sao Paulo to the Amazon, turned out to vote. These young voters make up 2.3% of the Brazilian electorate on average, even though, unlike Brazilians aged between 18 and 69, they are not legally required to vote.

Brazil is one of an increasing number of countries that allow citizens in this age group to vote. As part of a recent movement, Austria, Nicaragua, Argentina, some states in Germany and a canton in Switzerland have all lowered their voting age to 16. Indonesia and South Sudan are among the ranks of several countries that allow 17-year-olds to vote. The 2014 Scottish referendum was fascinating, not only because of its salience for British and world politics, but also because 16 year-old lads and lasses had the right to vote for the first time anywhere in the British Isles. The United Kingdom, intact, continues to consider lowering the voting age. Norway experimented with a lowered voting age in 2011 and several American states (including California, Florida and Alaska) have considered bills to lower the voting age in recent years.

Studies from a municipal election in the United States, as well as national elections in Denmark and Austria, have shown that 16- and 17-year-olds are avid political participants and that voting at 16 and 17 is habit-forming. Socialized into a culture of participation early on, 16- and 17-year-old voters may age into more politically active older people than those who do not vote for the first time until they are 18 on 19.  An American study found that 16- and 17 year olds have similar levels of political knowledge and competencies as young people aged between 18 and 30 years.

While it is not clear yet who will be next Brazilian President, it is increasingly apparent that lowering the voting age to 16 will remain a widely debated and advocated reform in the next decade.