Stuff: ‘Politics is everything’ – Two teenagers make the case for lowering the voting age

Written by Mair Gibbs, 16, and Ruby Vidgen, 21 Sept 2019

As efforts to lower the voting age gain traction, with the Make it 16 campaign reaching parliament on Friday, Stuff asked two 16 year-olds why they’d like the chance to vote. 

Masterton student Mair Gibbs, 16, would like the chance to have her democratic say.
Masterton student Mair Gibbs, 16, would like the chance to have her democratic say.

Masterton student Mair Gibbs believes many 16 and 17-year-olds have the smarts to make good voting decisions which would only strengthen democracy across society.

OPINION: My generation has an incredibly nihilistic outlook on life. This is prominent in the remarkably high suicide rate, but is also reflected in the voter turnout.

If young people who are eligible to vote do not see a point in doing so, in participating in creating legislature that will ultimately have the greatest impact on them over the longest period of time, then why are no effective steps being taken to address this concerning issue?

Around a third of New Zealand young people who are eligible to vote, don’t, according to our election statistics. This millennial and post millennial attitude towards voting bears great contrast to our parents’ ‘Generation X’ for whom this figure is closer to 18 per cent.

More striking still, is the comparison to our grandparent’s generation, ‘Baby boomers’, in which only 12 per cent of registered voters fail to vote. I believe this steady decline in voter turnout relative to age is ultimately a result of the changing attitude towards civic duty. 

The consistent decline in voter turnout by my generation raises the question ‘who is supposed to teach young people the impact, the importance, the hows and the whats of voting?’

The responsibility is currently essentially left to parents, but should it be? 

I’m lucky in the sense that my family is incredibly involved in politics. My 18-year-old sister is running in the current local council elections and my mother works for our region’s MP and is a regular voter. But this isn’t an experience shared by all New Zealand youths. If parents don’t vote or take an interest in politics then how will their children learn to? 

The answer to this dilemma rests in giving this responsibility to schools, providing a greater civic education to New Zealand teenagers.

Not only would lowering the voting age to 16 give this education context and relevancy, but providing a system through which youths can vote through their school would set up the idea of civic duty/pride and ideally help develop life-long voting habits.

For if the creation and adaption of New Zealand legislature doesn’t reflect each age demographic evenly and accurately then how ‘democratic’ is the New Zealand democracy?

The core issue regarding lowering the voting age is the lack of ‘maturity’ of youths.

The idea that 16-year-olds do not possess the knowledge or just the general intelligence to make an individualised decision on who should represent them in parliament is ingrained yet outdated.

Personally, I ask ‘is this ability to make a decision bestowed upon one on their 18th birthday alongside the title ‘adult’?’

If New Zealand wants the only people voting to be its most educated and intelligent citizens then perhaps an IQ test would serve better than an age restriction.

But if New Zealand wants its citizens to become educated, intelligent and informed on New Zealand politics, then perhaps introducing the ability to vote whilst the majority of 16-17 year-olds are still in a school environment—a learning environment—would be the appropriate solution.

Nelson teenager Ruby Vidgen thinks 16-year-olds should have the right to vote.
SAMANTHA GEE Nelson teenager Ruby Vidgen thinks 16-year-olds should have the right to vote.

Nelson student Ruby Vidgen thinks lowering the voting age and making political education mandatory at school would increase political engagement among teenagers.

OPINION: I think the biggest thing facing New Zealanders is climate change. If the economy crashes or we have a booming economy, at the end of the day if we don’t have a good climate, then it is all for nothing. 

At 16 you are able to drive, consent to sex, own a gun and pay taxes, so you may as well be able to vote.

I work part time as a checkout operator. I pay tax, but then I don’t really get a say on where it goes. All we can really do is protest or write a letter to the prime minister and that isn’t as solid as voting. 

A lot of the politicians I have spoken to about climate change have said “just recycle”, but the whole point of government is that they can implement change by putting infrastructure in place which makes it easier for us. 

The whole point of having younger people voting is to have different opinions. That’s what democracy is, it’s getting opinions from everyone. 

I want to be able to vote on curriculum changes, like teaching New Zealand history in school, because it is me who is being affected. 

I chose to study law at school and we’ve learnt about mixed-member proportional (MMP) and First Past the Post (FFP) electoral systems which is good, but I’ve chosen that subject. Learning about politics should be part of the curriculum. Play VideoMORNING REPORT/RNZYoung people running in local elections say they’re reaching part of the population that wouldn’t otherwise vote. Voter turnout has been declining since the 1980s.

There is such jargon around government and voting that it sort of puts younger people off because it’s so hard to understand what different things mean. 

So many people say that 16-year-olds aren’t going to be engaged and they aren’t going to want to vote, but then two years later you turn 18 and you can vote. Two years really isn’t that much time. 

There are some 18-year-olds who don’t even know how to enrol to vote, who to vote for or where to get information. 

Ahead of the upcoming local government elections, I MC’d a ‘meet the candidates’ evening for youth and one of the questions was about lowering the voting age to 16 and all but one of them said they were for it. 

Everyone thinks young people don’t understand politics. There are so many 16-year-olds that do want to vote and if you teach them from a young age about the political system they will be more engaged. It’s a good chance for people to get into it at a young age.

I want to go to Victoria University to study law and political science. I have quite a strong sense of justice. If I see a problem with something, I want to find a solution. 

I really like hearing other people’s opinions. I would much prefer to have a conversation with someone who completely disagrees with me on everything than to have a conversation with someone who agrees with what I say.

It’s extremely important to vote. We are so lucky that we are able to, I think we take it for granted that we do actually have a say.

Politics is literally everything. If you own a home or you are homeless, if you have any type of problem you should care about the people who are representing you.

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