Meet the rangatahi campaigning to make New Zealand’s voting age 16 in this Doc Edge Original.
When you turn 16 in New Zealand you can drive a car, get married or leave school, work full time and pay tax. But if you want the right to vote, you’ll have to wait another two years.
That’s unfair, say the young people leading the campaign to Make It 16, a move they believe will make New Zealand a more inclusive and robust democracy.
“It’s important to have a lot of people’s voices in the mix, because that’s what democracy is,” says Make It 16’s Benjamin McKie. “It really is that simple: the more people who are able to contribute, the stronger your democracy is.”
Last year, the group took their case to the High Court, arguing for an amendment to the Bill of Rights. “[The right to vote] is the only one of all of the rights which has an age on it,” explains Gina Dao-McLay. ”So one section says that once you’re 16, you can’t be discriminated against for your age. And then the other section says that once you’re 18, you have the right to vote.”
The court denied their bid, saying in its judgement that the voting age question was a complicated one and more work needed to be done before a decision could be made. But instead of giving up there, Make It 16 are taking their case to the Court of Appeal in August, and have just launched a petition to show support for the idea. They already have backing from the likes of Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft and the Electoral Commission, whose 2020 report called for the issue to be discussed.
“In launching this petition, we hope to show how eager 16 and 17-year-olds are to actively participate in our democracy” the group’s co-director Cate Tipler said. “We know that habits formed early in our lives are more likely to stick with us. Given the government’s commitment to implementing civics education, there’s no better way to cement a commitment to our participatory democracy than by enabling young people to put theory into practice.”
New Zealand has lowered the voting age before. In 1969, parliament voted to reduce it from 21 to 20, and in 1974 it came down to 18. And we wouldn’t be the first in the world to lower it to 16: Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Scotland and plenty others are already there.
In May this year, Wales legislated for 16 and 17-year-olds to be able to vote in local government elections. That’s the first goal for the Make It 16 campaign: they want to be able to have their say at the next local body elections in 2022.
Why shouldn’t they?
Make It 16 is a Doc Edge Original commissioned by Doc Edge and Rei Foundation. Made with the support of NZ on Air.