Germany's Bremen lets 16-year-olds vote to boost turnout

BERLIN Fri May 20, 2011 9:19am EDT

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BERLIN (Reuters) - For the first time in Germany, people as young as 16 years old will be able to vote in a state election Sunday when citizens of the northern city-state of Bremen head to the polls.

State and federal elections require voters to be 18 years old but the new law in Bremen, where 16-year-olds have long been eligible to vote in local elections, went into effect last year.

One of the reasons behind extending the vote to younger people was to combat low voter turnout, a trend throughout Germany, said Social Democrat (SPD) spokesman Andre Staedler.

The teens are not, however, expected to noticeably influence the election. There are only 10,000 eligible 16 and 17-year-old voters in the electorate of 500,000.

A spate of regional election defeats for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats this year have sent shockwaves all the way to Berlin, but analysts do not expect the Bremen election to cause a major surprise.

Polls indicate Social Democratic Mayor Jens Boehrnsen has little to worry about losing his seat in the Hanseatic city his party has ruled since 1945.

The center-left SPD was running at 36 percent in the most recent poll, 12 points ahead of its nearest challenger, current junior coalition partner the Greens.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey)

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