Your Right to Vote in Austria

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

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.

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

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