Stuff Reader Report: Why the voting age should be reduced to 16

Written by Isobel Jaspers, Ella Thorpe and Katie Piper16:21, Aug 04 2017

“Young people are constantly being told that they need to think about their futures, yet they don’t have a say in political decisions that will affect them later on in life.

The current voting age restricts the future leaders of New Zealand from learning about the systems used in parliament like MMP, as well as about the voting process which will hopefully play an important part in their lives.

We are three young New Zealand women, and we want the voting age to be lowered to the age of 16.

The age of 16 is already a milestone in terms of other legislation. People above the age of 16 are able to consent to sexual intercourse, agree to or refuse medical treatment and apply for a firearms license amongst other things. Isn’t it strange that 16-year-olds are legally allowed to buy a chainsaw but don’t have the right to vote?

If the voting age was lowered to 16, New Zealand politics could be impacted significantly.

In the last census, there were 118,935 people aged 16 and 17 in New Zealand. If 16 and 17-year-olds were able to vote there would be a greater number of youth voters in total. The majority of voters in the last election were older than 25 but under-25-year-olds will have to live with the decisions made in each election for longer than those voters, so having more young voters would even the playing field.

We all know that old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form. If people began to vote at a younger age, they would be more likely to continue to vote throughout their lives and voter disengagement would decrease.

There is currently high voter disengagement amongst young eligible voters, but lowering the voting age could help with this issue. Most 16-year-olds are still a part of the education system, so the current curriculum could be adapted to further student’s understanding of government systems. This support could be what they need to begin developing political opinions and to start using their democratic rights.

Other countries have seen benefits by reducing the voting age to 16. For example, Scotland reduced the voting age from 18 to 16 for the 2014 referendum to decide whether the country would remain as a part of Britain.

Over 80 per cent of young Scots registered to vote, and 67 per cent of them said they would be certain or fairly certain to vote in the general election if allowed.

The Scottish Government’s decision to lower the voting age was based on the urgent need to correlate political rights and economic/social rights for 16 and 17-year-olds. The results from countries such as Scotland show that reducing the voting age is a positive step to take. If this change was to be made in New Zealand, it is very likely that the same benefits would be seen.

Some 16-year-olds already have jobs in which they have to pay tax, but since they can’t vote they don’t get a say in what to do with that money. Their futures are also decided for them through some policies. In this coming election, one of Labour’s policies is to initiate making tertiary education partially free from 2019. National also has a policy that is focusing on improving achievement in schools, including teacher quality and student leadership. Both of these policies will clearly affect young New Zealanders, so why can’t the people affected vote?

There needs to be more of a focus on issues facing young New Zealanders, because parties don’t have a young audience to appeal to and the problems youth have aren’t seriously considered. If the voting age was lowered, there would be a new demographic for parties to attract and so more thought would be put towards helping out young Kiwis. It seems like because people below the age of 18 can’t vote, they don’t think about what they want or need from the government. They aren’t given an opportunity to have a say, and so don’t think about what they would say if they could. This isn’t sustainable for future politics in New Zealand.

We have started a petition on change.org to gauge support of this proposed change. If you think that the voting age in New Zealand should be lowered to 16, please sign it. We also encourage you to express your opinion in the comment section below.

As the youth of New Zealand, we are the next generation who will one day be the leaders of this country. We deserve a say in the decisions made in our country and for our voices to be heard on the issues that matter most to us.

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