Spinoff: I’m 17 and I’m ready to vote. Here’s why I should count in this year’s election

Written by our very own Co-Director, Gina Dao-McLay, June 18 2020

Gina Dao-McLay from the Make it 16 campaign on how lowering the voting age could make all the difference.

My 18th birthday is eight days after September’s general election. I want to vote. I’m ready to vote. But the law currently stops me from doing so.  

As co-director of Make it 16, a campaign launched last year to lower the voting age here in Aotearoa, we’re taking a case to the High Court arguing that the current voting age of 18 is unjustified age discrimination and that it’s inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. The High Court has confirmed it will test the rights of 16 and 17-year-olds to vote on Monday 24 August – less than two weeks before voting begins for this year’s general election.

Make it 16 is taking this court case as we believe in a truly strong, thriving democracy.  Just like previous extensions of the franchise, extending the voting age to 16 will make our democracy better.

Young people will be impacted the most by decisions made on how Aotearoa will recover and rebuild from Covid-19.  The statistics show newly unemployed people are mainly rangatahi, so why don’t we have a say at this election on who our representatives are that will be making these important decisions on our future? 

The evidence shows countries who’ve moved to a voting age of 16 like Scotland have had positive impacts on turnout and engagement. People in Aotearoa are currently eligible to vote for the first time when they are between 18 and 21 years old. At this time in one’s life, people are at their most transient. Meanwhile, 16 and 17 year-olds are much more likely to have been living in their local community for some time. 

Extending the vote to 16 and 17 year-olds will establish voting at elections as a habit while most people are still at school.  It’s been proven once a person votes for the first time, the likelihood of them continuing to vote in the next election increases. When a young person doesn’t vote in the first election they’re eligible to, they’re less likely to vote in the next election.

I hope parliament listens to our campaign and the arguments we’re taking to court and changes the law before the general election. But Make it 16 knows we may have to continue this fight into the next parliamentary term. 

Voting for the 2020 general election ends on Saturday, 19 September. My 18th birthday is on the 27 September, and while I find it highly unlikely that I’ll wake up that day overwhelmed with incredible new knowledge about civics and democracy, I know I’ll still be as passionate about our democracy and continue pushing for us rangatahi to get our say at the polls.

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