As presidential candidates increase their efforts to canvass support from first-time voters, lawmakers from across party lines are mulling whether to amend the law to lower the legal voting age to 18 years.
However, some academics cast doubt on the idea, saying that lowering the legal voting age would require a constitutional amendment.
According to Article 130 of the Constitution, citizens of the Republic of China (ROC) have the right to vote when they are 20 years old and “unless otherwise stipulated in the Constitution or in other laws, citizens of the ROC have the right to be voted for when they are legally 23 years old.”
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the New Party tried to lower the legal voting age when earlier amendments were made to the Constitution. Those moves were blocked by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
In an effort to lower the legal voting age, DPP Legislator Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬) concluded a petition to amend the Constitution and handed it to the Constitutional Amendment Committee on May 13.
Currently, an amendment to the Constitution not only requires that it be proposed by at least a quarter of all legislators, that at least three-quarters of all legislators vote and that the vote be passed by three-quarters of voting legislators, it also needs to be ratified by a referendum with over 50 percent of voters voting in favor.
KMT Legislator Ting Shou-chung (丁守中), proposed a way to circumvent the need to introduce a constitutional amendment, suggesting that the relevant laws could be amended by the Legislative Yuan.
Ting described as ludicrous the situation whereby ROC citizens who are 18 years old are legally responsible for any criminal behavior they engage in and eligible for mandatory military service, but still unable to vote.
Ting argued that his proposal did not necessitate an amendment to the Constitution because in a case where the Constitution directly undermines people’s rights, it should be interpreted loosely.
Whether or not to grant young adults under 20 years of age the right to vote should be a discretionary decision for legislators, Ting said.
However, an earlier forum hosted by the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) on the issue was unanimous in its opinion that the lowering of the legal voting age necessitated an amendment to the Constitution that could not be circumvented.
According to National Taiwan University department of political science professor Hwang Giin-tarng (黃錦堂), a proponent for lowering the legal voting age to 18 years of age, the Constitution is very explicit and to make a different interpretation of “legally 20 years old” would knock loose other articles and make it untenable. That view was echoed by Liao Da-chi (廖達琪), director of National Sun Yat-sen University’s institute of political science.
Aside from mulling changes to the legal age for voting, a number of DPP lawmakers have also been actively proposed amendments so that general elections held on Sundays, as well as extending voting hours, in a bid to ensure laborers who have to work on polling day are still able to vote.
The Central Election Commission traditionally sets polling days on Saturdays, with voting taking place from 8am until 4pm.
In light of the MOI’s pushing of absentee voting last year, DPP legislators feel that they should prioritize the voting rights of citizens who live in Taiwan, adding that extending voting hours for laborers having to work on Saturday would protect their right to vote.