Stuff: Time to lower the voting age in New Zealand?

Written by Azaria Howell 11:44, Sep 14 2017

Despite representing New Zealand at a recent UN Youth summit, 15-year-old Azaria Howell
won't get to have her say in the coming election.
Despite representing New Zealand at a recent UN Youth summit, 15-year-old Azaria Howell won’t get to have her say in the coming election.

With more young candidates and voices emerging in New Zealand politics, is it time we as a nation took a serious look at lowering the voting age?

As a young person who cares passionately about politics, I support the idea of changing the voting age to 16. I believe we need our voices heard.

Even with the current voting limit of 18, some are already predicting  a political “youthquake” for the coming general election. Imagine the impact if the tens of thousands of voters aged 16 and 17 were added to the electoral roll.

If the voting age was lowered lowered to 16, politicians would be far more likely to take youth opinions and issues seriously. Under the current system, the issues that matter to us are woefully under-represented.

Another key reason to why some believe in a lower voting age is how it could help participatory democracy.

Despite popular opinion, young people really do care about politics. As a 15-year-old, I constantly see my friends posting on social media about the election and I talk about key election issues at school all the time.

It seems most of the young people I encounter genuinely care about politics and feel a need to have their voices heard.

Whether it’s people changing their profile pictures to show partisan support or posting the latest memes of Jacinda, young people really do care about the future of New Zealand.

A common argument against the idea of lowering the voting age is the fact that civics education is not currently taught in schools. However, our voting system isn’t exactly difficult to explain to young people, so why are we not being taught about it?

The issue here is that we are simply not being taught the importance of politics in schools. I believe young people should know how important demoracy is. 

The decisions politicians make have a huge effect on our daily lives, yet we are not able to have a say on who to represents us in Parliament.

However, it’s great to see more and more young candidates like Chloe Swarbrick (22), Jack McDonald, (23), and Jami-Lee Ross (31) for the general election who are willing to engage with millennial voices.

Green candidate for Te Tai Hauāuru is a keen advocate for a lower voting age. Speaking to Radio NZ McDonald said, “age does matter, because young people deserve a voice in politics.”

National say that the voting age should stay the same. Prime Minister Bill English is happy with the status quo, probably because young people tend to vote for parties that are more left wing, so a lower voting age would harm his party.

The Labour Party do not have a policy on lowering the national voting age, but their leader, Jacinda Ardern, is 36-years-old, which is young compared to most members of parliament.

The Green Party have young candidates like Swarbrick and McDonald placed high on their initial list this year, but they also do not have an official policy on lowering the voting age, even though some of their candidates like McDonald strongly back the idea.

Unfortunately, not everyone cares enough or knows enough about politics to vote. Some critics say that 16-year-olds would waste their vote on joke candidates, but this already occurs with the voting age set at 18.

In fact, the Civilian Party received more 1000 party votes in the 2014 general election. And former joke parties like the McGillicuddy Serious Party also had some success. It’s just human nature that some people will not take voting seriously, regardless of age.

We are the future of New Zealand and deserve to have a voice in politics. 

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