Terms of reference have been announced for a review of electoral laws (Photo: RNZ/Nate McKinnon)
Terms of reference have been announced for a review of electoral laws (Photo: RNZ/Nate McKinnon)

The BulletinMay 25, 2022

Should the voting age be 16?

Terms of reference have been announced for a review of electoral laws (Photo: RNZ/Nate McKinnon)
Terms of reference have been announced for a review of electoral laws (Photo: RNZ/Nate McKinnon)

A review into our electoral laws is getting underway and will consider whether the voting age should be lowered to 16, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin


Electoral laws to be reviewed

The government has announced terms of reference for a review of electoral laws. The Herald’s Thomas Coughlan outlines what’s being covered. The voting age grabs headlines but the review will also consider the length of the parliamentary term, overseas voting and political financing, and could recommend an increase in the number of seats in parliament. Plenty to unpack in future Bulletins. An independent panel chaired by Deborah Hart has been appointed to oversee the review.

Green MP member’s electoral reform bill drawn from biscuit tin

The announcement comes days after Green MP Golriz Ghahraman’s Electoral Amendment Bill was drawn from the biscuit tin. Ghahraman is still hoping the government will support her bill. That bill proposes enabling voters of Māori descent to change between rolls at any time, lowering the voting age, overseas voting requirements (an issue Newsroom’s Sam Sachdeva covers here) and extending the right to vote to all prisoners. Make it 16, an advocacy group for lowering the age have taken cases to the High Court and the Court of Appeal on the basis that Acts that legislate the voting age as 18 are “inconsistent” with the Bill of Rights. They are now taking their case to the Supreme Court.

Only 13% of New Zealanders want the age lowered in 2020 poll

This 2021 documentary on the Spinoff looks at the Make it 16 argument while philosophy lecturer Nick Munn has looked at the benefits of lowering the age. According to a 2020 1 News Colmar Brunton poll, only 13% of New Zealanders want the age lowered. Yale Law professor Gideon Yaffe argues that reducing the voting age justifies “treating 16 and 17 year olds as adults in the criminal justice system”. Youth justice experts here don’t want children aged between 10 and 17 being dealt with in the adult court at all. Around the world, voting ages span between 16-21. The United Arab Emirates is an outlier at 25. Any age limit is somewhat arbitrary and a line has to be drawn somewhere.

Prime minister plumps for civics education

When the prime minister answered a question about this on Monday (from 33:10 here), she said she was open to the discussion but diverted to the importance of civics education. A holding pattern and possibly a red herring. Longitudinal research also suggests that active participation trumps any kind of classroom teaching. I went to high school many years ago but I guess I thought civics education was doing debating, student council and model UN (regretting this disclosure already). This might not have been typical but civics education is not just about “politics”. It’s about understanding your rights and duties, how to listen to the views of others and how to access government agencies. These are good things to teach, and at a younger age than 16, but they’re not exclusively required as a prerequisite to voting. It’s also never been taught before so everyone that’s ever voted from age 18 has done so without these magical powers.

Want to read The Bulletin in full? Click here to subscribe and join over 36,000 New Zealanders who start each weekday with the biggest stories in politics, business, media and culture.  

The Bulletin is made possible by Z Energy, proudly supporting local news that matters.

 Check out how they’re delivering New Zealand an alternative fuel future.

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

Get The Spinoff
in your inbox