Make It 16 is campaigning to lower New Zealand's voting age (Image: Baly Gaudin / Make It 16)

Why Make It 16 just launched a petition to lower New Zealand’s voting age

Watching the debates and reading the policies before last year’s election, 17-year-old Jess Tait felt ready to vote. Now the Make It 16 co-director wants to change the law to give other 16 and 17-year-olds that right.

A couple of months before the 2020 election, I was sitting with my school friends having a passionate debate about the pros and cons of the cannabis referendum. We discussed both sides of the issue in detail, and everyone brought different information and experiences to the table, which allowed us to come to our own informed conclusions on the issue. 

Half way through this discussion, one of our teachers walked past and overheard us talking. “Wow, you girls seem to know more about this issue than most of the adults I know,” they said. “Including me!” 

Though it was intended as a compliment, we found this comment frustrating. The conversation moved from the referendum itself onto how unfair it was that these adults were allowed to vote on the issue, but not our group of 16-year-olds who were better informed than many of them.

As I watched last year’s leaders debates, researched the party policies and became more informed on both referendums, my frustrations only grew. So earlier this year when I found out there was an organisation called Make It 16, and that they were calling for more committee members, I applied straight away. 

Make It 16 is a non-partisan, youth-led campaign advocating for more people’s voices to count in our democracy. The group formed during the 2019 Youth Parliament and officially launched in September 2019, with a centrepiece of the campaign being taking a human rights case to the High Court. 

Make It 16 continues to put the voting age on the political agenda. We have just launched a petition to lower the voting age to 16, and hope this will show parliament how important it is that more people are able to have a say in our democracy. We believe this carries on the legacy of other crucial democratic petitions, such as the women’s suffrage one of 1893. 

Although our main goal is to have the voting age for general elections lowered to 16, the petition has a particular focus on lowering the voting age for the next local elections in October 2022. Local elections suffer from low voter turnout, and councillors who stay on for far too long. We believe extending the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds will refresh and bring new energy to our local elections, and represent the first step towards lowering the voting age for general elections.  

Make It 16 also continues to fight for the acknowledgement of our rights through the court. We will be in the Court of Appeal, Aotearoa’s second highest court, on August 5, where our lawyers, who work for us pro bono, will be making the case that last year’s High Court decision was incorrect.

Since launching less than two years ago, our campaign has already made a lot of progress in bringing this issue into the public eye. It is now being taught in schools, discussed on the radio and covered on current affairs shows. From something that was rarely mentioned until recently, it now comes up regularly in all sorts of political conversations.

The Electoral Commission recently recommended that now is the time for parliament to consider lowering the voting age. There are no more excuses – it’s time to give a proper voice to rangatahi by giving us our right to vote.

Make It 16 is a Doc Edge Original commissioned by Doc Edge and Rei Foundation. Made with the support of NZ on Air.

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