Your Right to Vote

In Aus­tria, you can vote at 16 and don’t need to reg­is­ter. For some elec­tions, EU cit­i­zens can vote too

METROPOLE - Vienna in English - - VIENNA LEGAL - by Christoph Krones MMAG. CHRISTOPH KRONES is an at­tor­ney-at-law from Vienna. His fields of ex­per­tise are civil and civil pro­ce­dural law as well as ad­min­is­tra­tive and ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­ce­dural law - www.krones-law.at

In democ­ra­cies, a cit­i­zen’s right to vote is the way to par­tic­i­pate in the demo­cratic process. In Aus­tria, uni­ver­sal suf­frage for men was in­tro­duced in 1907 and the coun­try was one of the first in Europe to in­tro­duce women’s suf­frage in 1918. The right to vote in Aus­tria has two parts: the ac­tive right to vote, and the right to run for of­fice, also called “pas­sive right to vote.” In 2007, the vot­ing age was low­ered from 18 to 16, fol­low­ing the end of re­quired school­ing. The vote can only be taken away as part of sen­tenc­ing for a se­ri­ous cri­m­inial con­vic­tion. De­pend­ing on the year, vot­ers choose the Fed­eral Pres­i­dent and rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the Na­tional Coun­cil (i.e. the lower cham­ber of par­lia­ment), and the Re­gional Assem­blies (Land­tage) in the Fed­eral States (Bun­deslän­der), in City Hall and other mu­nic­i­pal po­si­tions. On a city level, all EU cit­i­zens with their pri­mary res­i­dence in Aus­tria can take part. Since the Vi­en­nese City Coun­cil is its own re­gional as­sem­bly (Land­tag), Eu-cit­i­zens re­sid­ing here can only vote on a district level (Bezirksvertre­tungswahlen). Third-coun­try na­tion­als do not have the right to vote in Aus­tria. One in­ter­est­ing wrin­kle is that po­lit­i­cally savvy 16-year-old Euro­peans can reg­is­ter in Aus­tria and vote in elec­tions for the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, even be­fore they reach the le­gal vot­ing age in their home coun­try (18 years in most). EU cit­i­zens re­sid­ing in Aus­tria can choose to vote ei­ther for Aus­trian Mem­bers of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment (MEPS) or the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of their home coun­try. In re­cent years, the tools of di­rect democ­racy (Volks­begehren) have be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar in Aus­tria. In or­der to par­tic­i­pate, the same laws ap­ply as for tra­di­tional suf­frage on a fed­eral level. El­i­gi­ble vot­ers re­ceive vot­ing in­for­ma­tion by mail at their pri­mary res­i­dence and may also re­quest doc­u­ments for postal vot­ing (ab­sen­tee bal­lots). Votes are then cast at a lo­cal polling sta­tion with valid iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. Aus­tri­ans and EU cit­i­zen’ res­i­dency dou­bles as vot­ing reg­is­tra­tion. While vot­ing is not com­pul­sory, turnout is ex­cep­tion­ally high in Aus­tria com­pared to other democ­ra­cies, with 75-80 per­cent of par­tic­i­pa­tion be­ing the norm for na­tional elec­tions.

RUN­NING FOR OF­FICE

Aus­trian na­tion­als en­ti­tled to vote can also run for of­fice, pro­vided they are of the re­quired age on elec­tion day. The min­i­mum age for fed­eral pres­i­dent is 35 years and for all other of­fices 18. EU cit­i­zens re­sid­ing in Aus­tria have the right to run for the mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil begin­ning at the age of 18. Be­cause of Vienna’s sta­tus as a Fed­eral State, EU cit­i­zens can run in district elec­tions only, but not at the mu­nic­i­pal level. In line with the EU’S motto “United in Di­ver­sity,” EU cit­i­zens re­sid­ing in Aus­tria also have the right to run for of­fice as Aus­trian MEPS.

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