The Argentine Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill late Wednesday night that lowers Argentina’s national voting age from 18 to 16 years old. With 52 votes in favor of the bill—and just 3 senators opposing the measure and two abstentions— Argentina joins Austria, Nicaragua, Brazil, and Ecuador in allowing 16-year-olds to participate in elections. At least six laws must now be modified so that electoral system can full embrace the new voters.
Passage of the bill means an additional 1.4 million new voters in a country where 23 million people voted last year. Argentine voters are obligated to vote in general elections.
Critics say the move is a calculated attempt by Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to position herself for re-election in 2015, suggesting that the law would allow Fernández to cash in on her popularity among young Argentines. If younger voters support Fernández’ party in large numbers in the October 2013 legislative elections, it’s possible they could push through a constitutional reform that would permit her to run for president for a third term.
But the bill’s co-author, Senator Elena Corregido, says those charges are absurd. “They always say it’s not the right time or that there’s political speculation, but in reality, this deepens the democratic process we’re experiencing.”
Political analysts say the law may not have much of an impact overall: “We’re talking about a fairly small percentage and they’re not all going to vote for Cristina Fernández,” said political analyst Graciela Romer. “In the last elections, her youth vote was above average, but it wasn’t an avalanche, either.”
Recently, Argentina has also mulled over other changes to voting law, including allowing foreign residents of Argentina to vote. Buenos Aires is already asking foreign non-citizens to vote in local elections. But it remains to be seen whether voters—foreign, teenage or otherwise—will want their presidents to run for three terms.