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Should 16 year olds have the vote?

Written By: - Date published: 9:36 am, August 25th, 2020 - 54 comments
Categories: democratic participation, election 2020, uncategorized, vote smart - Tags:

There is an interesting case being heard right now in the High Court in Wellington.

Andrew Geddis in the Spinoff has the details.

Is there any good reason to let 18-year-old people vote, but not those who are 16 or 17 years old? That’s the question the High Court starts grappling with today, in a case brought by the advocacy group “Make it 16”.

They aren’t asking that the court allow those 16-plus to vote in this year’s election. That’s not on the cards, because the Electoral Act is completely clear only “adults” (being persons 18-or-older) are permitted to register to vote. A New Zealand court can do nothing to change this legal reality.

Instead, Make it 16 wants the court to issue a formal declaration that the current voting age, while legally valid, is a form of unjustified age discrimination that is inconsistent with the NZ Bill of Rights Act, s 19. As with the “declaration of inconsistency” issued in respect of prisoner voting, the intention is to leverage such a remedy into political pressure on parliament to reform the law. By getting a judge to lay bare the shoddy basis for restricting individual rights, MPs may be shamed into doing something to fix the problem.

There is a major technical impediment with the argument being raised by the proponents.  They are relying on Bill of Rights arguments to support the contention that the current policy is not only discriminatory but the Court should overlook the fact that our own Bill of Rights Act recognises the age of 18 as the cut off for voting rights.  Essentially they have to persuade the Court that the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 contains an unjustified limit on the rights contained in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.  I think the leaps of logic required will be too much for the Court and would be pessimistic about the litigation’s prospects.

But as to the philosophical merits for the proposal my thoughts are why shouldn’t 16 year olds be permitted to vote?  Most 16 year olds I know are more than sufficiently attuned to what is happening to them that they should have a say in their future.

Sure not all 16 year olds may be in that situation.  But neither are all 90 year olds.

My personal view is let them have their say.  They have more at stake in the proper managing of our collective future than the rest of us.

54 comments on “Should 16 year olds have the vote? ”

  1. JanM 1

    I think they should be able to vote. They can leave school, get a job, get a driver's licence, get married, open a bank account. And there will be more – all of these have issues which are legislated for and which affect them therefore. There's no point in running an argument about their ability to use their vote wisely – all you have to do to destroy that argument is to listen to some of the nincompoops around you who are legally able to vote! My 13 year old grandson has more clues than some of them.

    • Herodotus 1.1

      There are many aspects of life that remain "controlled" and out of a 16 year olds decision making. – Not sure your list is correct They canNOT get married without parental consent (shall we change that as well ??)and are unable to open a bank account . This list may help as what a 16, 17 and 18 year olds legal rights. If they vote why should not all "adult" responsibilities and consequences also not apply ??

      http://youthlaw.co.nz/rights/legal-ages/

    • JanM 2.1

      Yes. I very much agree that civic studies are long overdue in our schools – it is a yawning hole in our education system

    • JohnSelway 2.2

      Civics is really important – I agree. It would need to be structured properly of course, to avoid bias towards any one party however being taught the importance of voting, what it means to be politically active, how MMP works etc etc

  2. Phil 3

    Most 16 year olds I know are more than sufficiently attuned to what is happening to them that they should have a say in their future. Sure not all 16 year olds may be in that situation. But neither are all 90 year olds.

    I'm only half joking when I say that we should seriously consider having a maximum voting age as well.

  3. PsyclingLeft.Always 4

    Well there were lots at the Climate Change Marches…even though "some" schools didnt approve…

    I'd say a lot of 16 year olds are VERY switched on.

  4. Andre 5

    Is 16 really the sensible cut-off point? Why not 12? Or when a kid starts school?

    What are the criteria for determining who has the mental capacity to responsibly exercise the awesome power of helping to choose the next government?

    • AB 5.1

      "Is 16 really the sensible cut-off point? Why not 12?"

      Is 18 really the sensible start point to allow people to vote? Why not 35?

      Slippery slope arguments can equally go in both directions.

      And actually we know what we are doing here – we set a point where the majority of us believe that an average person of this age can understand the world well enough to form a mature and independent opinion. We can just quietly go about deciding this without indulging in slippery slope rhetoric.

      Personally, I think 16 is too young. Mainly from hearing a 17 year old recently muttering about 'border botchups' because he doesn't like being off school. Someone so easily influenced by Nat propaganda is clearly too young to vote!

    • mickysavage 5.2

      We do need criteria. Having a significant number of them understand calculus or NZ history or Shakespeare would be more than enough IMHO.

      • Andre 5.2.2

        Oddly enough, neither calculus nor Shakespeare have done much to inform my votes (fuck I loathed having to prattle on about Shakespeare in school, I felt such a fucking fraud having to try to deceive my teacher about what meaning I saw in those words).

        But yeah, some understanding of history is a good thing. Along with the basic ability to look ahead to understand consequences of actions, and understanding of effects on other people and not just one's self. Looking back to my teen years, and looking at my kids and their peers, there are a very few that are well developed in those aspects at 16, but not many. It's not until the twenties that a majority of people appear to develop those qualities.

        However, it's also quite likely that among the teens, the ones that have developed responsible mental habits are over-represented among the teen voters. And in general, those that probably shouldn't vote, probably don't.

        So all up, I'm unpersuaded (so far) about reducing the voting age to 16. Sucks for those few civically-minded 16 and 17 year-olds, for sure. But life's a bitch.

  5. swordfish 6

    Nah, fuck em … nauseating adolescents … raise the minimum voting age to 56 & be done with it.

    • Brigid 6.1

      Buggar off. 60 to 72. And only those whose income is less than $70k.

      Then we'd get a proper govmint.

  6. weka 7

    "Most 16 year olds I know are more than sufficiently attuned to what is happening to them that they should have a say in their future. Sure not all 16 year olds may be in that situation. But neither are all 90 year olds."

    There's a difference though. Number of years lived and human development stages matter. Otherwise we'd be talking about giving the vote to ten year olds.

    The age limit has to be somewhere. Why sixteen? Other than the vague handwave to 16 yr olds being mature enough, or sufficiently attuned (never sure why 16 year olds are an 15 year olds aren't) what's the actual argument for when humans are sufficiently developed (as an age class) to be able to make sense of our electoral system and the issues involved in voting? No-one addresses that.

    I'm not convinced it's the right move on its own. Like other social shifts (eg End of Life Bill, decriminalising prostitution), we should be addressing the underlying problems (social and institutional) before we do this.

    In this case, put civics in schools and get kids up to speed on that, do educational work in the community for adults as well (including local body elections), have a national debate about democracy and governance. We're actually pretty bad as a society at giving young people responsibilities without adequate support, and it strikes me as another neoliberalism to lower the voting age without addressing structural issues.

    I'd also favour putting serious energy into how young people and children can be represented and participate even if they don't have the right to vote at the moment.

    • roy cartland 7.1

      +1

      The thing for me would be getting a bit more of a grip on advertising. Kids, as are adults, are susceptible to such a major slough of targeted ads these days. Without mitigation of what misinformation is vomited towards them, we might well see corporate pop stars, vape companies and social media influencers and platforms gaining actual MP representation in the house. More so than we do now.

      I'm mostly for it, but there needs to be more education into what you're actually voting for or it's a wasted opportunity.

    • RedLogix 7.2

      Agreed. There are arguments for for and against both a higher and a lower age limit, but there has to be a cutoff age somewhere and the experience of most societies suggest the optimum balance is somewhere between 18 and 21.

    • Anne 7.3

      Excellent response. Thank-you weka.

      I'm also far from convinced that it is an appropriate move under present circumstances and for the same reasons as you have outlined. My admittedly limited experience of 16 year old students is that the majority have little understanding of the system and even less understanding of the differences between the parties and their policies. I suspect the 16 year old proponents for this move are the exceptions to the rule.

      • JanM 7.3.1

        "My admittedly limited experience of 16 year old students is that the majority have little understanding of the system and even less understanding of the differences between the parties and their policies".

        That's our fault for not teaching them

  7. PsyclingLeft.Always 8

    Remember that simple soul Tania Harris who led the anti Union protest.? There have been other Protests since then Anti Springbok, Maori , even Farmers. But Youth (incl 16 year olds) have largely been invisible. (what happened to Student Awareness/Activism? )

    But thanks to Greta Thuneberg and a growing Awareness amongst youth, there is definitely a desire for a Political Voice. To whit the School Climate Marches

  8. In Vino 9

    My feeling is that the right to vote should remain tied to the Age of Majority, which, over my lifetime, has already dropped from 21 yrs old to 18 yrs.

  9. barry 10

    why not do away with age limits completely?

    Sure it would mean that some younger people's votes would be completed by their parents or guardians, but some older people have their votes filled in by others on their behalf, and we accept that.

  10. Stuart Munro 11

    I'm not sure that many MPs are mature enough to vote.

    Perhaps our young folk should enjoy a few brief years devoted to healthier pursuits.

  11. Corey Humm 12

    Yes sixteen is old enough to consent to sex so why not old enough to consent to your leadership? I imagine turn out would be quite high cos they could have early voting at schools.

    I don't think it'll necessarily benefit the left as much as people think, genz seems to be quite libertarian when compared to millennials on a lot of issues which absolutely makes sense because the next generation always rebels against the previous generation. I think it'd benifit parties like Top more than the Greens or Labour but I'm all for it

  12. Sabine 13

    they can work and pay taxes so yes they should have a vote.

    • Herodotus 13.1

      Why not 15 then using your criteria? At the same time we can allow those who are eligible to vote to also have the ability to legally buy alcohol and Cannabis ?

      • Sabine 13.1.1

        i don't disagree, i started working full time at 15 and resented having to have to work 40 hours a week like an adult but having not one of the rights.

        Biggest disconnect ever. but i responded to the headline which asked 'Should 16 year old vote'. So maybe ask that of the author rather then me?

        And yes, in Germany and other countries 16 year old can drink beer and wine legally. Also please consider that smoking weed in NZ is illegal for anyone regardless the age. But us over 18 we get to vote on a referendum 'to weed or not to weed' like big people, unbinding referendum that is 🙂 So maybe voting sometimes is just a big waste of money and time.

    • NZJester 13.2

      The justification the Americans make for their revolt against the English crown was no taxes without representation. If you are working a job and paying taxes you should have the right to vote.

      Mind you these days those who pay the least taxes or sometimes none at all due to tax avoidance schemes are the ones calling the shots in the US and sometimes here in NZ with a lot of politicians via legal bribes. With a few more genuine tax payers on the role we could at least wrestle more representation back. Form a true Tax Payers Union, not like that one that is called that but is made up of tax avoiders.

  13. Chris 14

    "Essentially they have to persuade the Court that the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 contains an unjustified limit on the rights contained in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. I think the leaps of logic required will be too much for the Court and would be pessimistic about the litigation’s prospects."

    I'm not so sure about this, in terms of the prosepcts, that is. All government action, including legislation, is subject to scrutiny under the NZBORA. Of course, when a statute's involved the only remedy available is a declaration of inconsistency. It's true that s 12 of NZBORA protects the right to vote for all persons 18 years and over, but the NZBORA does not have a special status over other legislation. I can't see why it wouldn't be subject to scrutiny in terms of BOR protections. I'd also go so far to say that s 12 of NZBORA doesn't, in this particular case, confer a right rather than reinforce an existing right under the Electoral Act.

    I don't see the situation as requiring some kind of legal gymnastics to get around a perceived circularity where the NZBORA is being relied upon to vet a provision under the NZBORA. To the contrary, I'd say that scrutiny of a protection contained in the NZBORA under a provision of the same Act is in fact within the spirit and purpose of BOR and human rights protections generally, therefore is quite consistent with the legislation itself.

  14. Corey Humm 15

    Commentators above think young people are uninformed ? I think you'll find they've been protesting and skipping school over climate change and it's the oldies who are misinformed. Whose gonna have to pay all this debt we're racking up back ? Lower the damn age so they can have a say in their futures. My 45 year old co-worker thinks he's voting for deputy PM Winston Churchill. Most of the public barely understands mmp and most don't understand how parliament works and this whole "not worldly or knowledgeable enough " is elitist bs. Should we make it so you have to be a university graduate to vote then? If voting is such a sacred duty why isn't it mandatory?
    Another argument people always say on this subject:

    "Radical parties might be elected to parliament" GOOD. Parliament is out of ideas, We have an mmp parliament and just about everyone in it is in agreement and incremental as hell and has no real plans for the future of which young people will be here to see and much broker and with much less opportunities to combat climate change than they were precovid. They should be able to have a say in the covid recovery and demand real transformation since it's their futures. If that sends shivers down the back of people who are quite happy with incremental tweaks and want to rebuild what was precovid , good cos it you think this year is bad it’s only going to get worse and the youth of today will have to live through it.

    We need to radically change our country and rebuild our infrastructure and move away from cars in the next ten years and the current current parliamentary parties cant even build a measly light rail train and acts like a cgt tax is radical policy, no wonder young people are so damned depressed for their futures. Let them have a say.

    • weka 15.1

      Who said that young people are uninformed? For me that's not the issue. The issue is life experience and the ability to think things through. Still haven't seen the argument for why 16 in that regard (human growth and development).

      "I think you'll find they've been protesting and skipping school over climate change and it's the oldies who are misinformed."

      This argument doesn't work for me either, because I skipped school to protest against the Tour when I was 15 and I don't believe it would have been appropriate for me and my peers to vote at that age. Protesting is not the same as voting.

      As for being informed, have you looked at the voting rates for 18 – 20 year olds? What does research say about understanding of climate change and age? What does research say about understanding of voting and age?

  15. weston 16

    Since our elections are always influenced by the mass of people who dont vote another block of voters could balance that effect somewhat .I think supporting a youth vote will only enhance what we have now and the last thing we should be doing is discouraging voluntary interest !.The young lady who seems to be spokesperson for this group comes across very well indeed imo cant say i quite understand all the old fuddy duddy opposition ??

  16. Incognito 17

    This puts it into context, for me:

    What are legal ages for things like drinking and getting married?

    https://www.cab.org.nz/article/KB00001126

    Most 16 year olds I know are more than sufficiently attuned to what is happening to them that they should have a say in their future.

    But voting is a collective action and the outcome affects all of us, even the ones who don’t vote.

  17. Draco T Bastard 18

    The idea that it age discrimination and thus against the BORA is, simply, a load of bollocks. There actually does have to be a cut-off age (as mentioned above) and such has been used for centuries. Its called the Age of Majority and, yes, there's effectively a build up to it in law as less restrictions are placed upon people as they get older.

    And, no, I'm not going to accept that 16 year olds are well informed enough to make decisions about it. Some, maybe, but not the majority. The other scary idea is that 16/17 year olds are easily manipulated by their parents and so won't be making an independent decision.

    I also work on the principle that if a person is old enough to vote for the society that they want then they're also old enough to go to war to defend that society and I think that 16/17 year olds are too young to go to war.

    So, no, I do not support 16 year olds getting the right to vote. They're still minors and it needs to stay that way.

    • solkta 18.1

      I think everybody is too young to go to war. Conscription will not happen again so i can't really see your point.

    • PsyclingLeft.Always 18.2

      "The other scary idea is that 16/17 year olds are easily manipulated by their parents and so won't be making an independent decision." Fark, how out of touch are you : )?

      Maybe you aint been near 16/17 year olds as a parent or otherwise….

      • Draco T Bastard 18.2.1

        I've been an uncle to more than 20 nephews and nieces for more than 40 years and I've seen a lot of them manipulated by their parents.

  18. PsyclingLeft.Always 19

    And yea we DEFINITELY need to make it Cool/OK to Vote. Otherwise we just keep the status quo…boomers/self interest groups/and the engaged. Otherwise expect apathy as per usual…

  19. The Greens hope of extending their voter base is not gonna work. Nobody under the age of 30 can be arsed getting out of bed to vote anyway. When the drinking age was lowered to 18 there was a sudden outbreak of extreme stupidity and drunk teenagers making a nuisance of themselves. The kids might be allowed a drivers license at 16 but they can't drive for shit and aren't favoured by insurers. They might be legal to do all sorts of things but the maturity is definitely not there for 90% of 16 year olds.

  20. PaddyOT 21

    Looking into and reconstructing democratic political systems at this time of crisis, particularly with exposed toxicity of political powers, has never been more important with inequalities and the impacts laid bare.

    Young people as citizens also are caught up living in environments of turmoil worldwide but disenfranchised from election voting which flows onto omitting their view in policy decision making. There is a need for greater participatory action for all citizens. Young citizens, who are to bear the long term impacts of today's decisions, need the capacity to participate through voting.

    Austria has had voting at 16 years old since 2008 so the discussion has over a decade of empirical evidence. Along with the right to vote in Austria, civic and citizenship education was implemented as a mandatory cross-curricular study in schools. This component embedded in school learning was to address the ' mitigation of misinformation' argument.

    Findings from "Democratic Audit Forum."

    "* 16- and 17-year-olds are more likely to turn out to vote than older first-time voters

    • over time these young voters became more interested in politics and electoral campaigns.
    • all first-time voters exhibit similar values as older voters, but, adolescent voters start their political career with a more optimistic picture of how politics works.

    *Results on ‘political maturity’ are more mixed but still very positive, particularly when observed from a medium-term perspective. Importantly, in most instances we find that the youngest group does not differ significantly from older first-time voters (18–20), and in some instances they even outperform them.

    • the criticism that often accompanies proposals to lower the voting age to 16 – for example, that adolescents will not engage in elections – did not manifest. Rather, they show that adolescents play an active part in political life, if they are allowed to. "

    https://www.democraticaudit.com/2020/02/26/what-happens-when-the-voting-age-is-lowered-to-16-a-decade-of-evidence-from-austria/

    Another perspective beneficial to longer term democracy, in terms of addressing the decline of voter turn out of all age groups, a combination of citizenship education and a voting age reduced to 16 helps capture young people earlier to remain engaged.

    https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/07/sake-democracy-we-need-get-young-voting-again-heres-how

    In Scotland the law was changed to enable 16- and 17-year olds to vote in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.
    " And to no one’s great surprise, this cohort of probably the most politically aware and informed teenagers in history participated enthusiastically – moreover, in greater numbers than 18–24 year olds. "

    https://www.democraticaudit.com/2015/11/07/the-scottish-independence-referendum-shows-that-young-people-can-be-mobilized-politically-given-the-right-circumstances/

    An investigation from a human rights perspective in Australia also found in favour of lowering voting age to 16. A proposal is that enrollment to vote is voluntary between the ages of 16 to 18 years as a means to enfranchise younger participation. Upheld is the right to have this age group participate and have their voice.

    https://www.hrlc.org.au/news/2018/8/1/voting-age-should-be-lowered-to-16

    The channels of information that may differ from other age groups was also validated.

    Full Paper download at-

    Lowering the Voting Age: A Human Rights Perspective

    U. of Adelaide Law Research Paper No. 2019

    https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3486077

    Civics' education in school is not about teachers banging out their theory on election party choices.

    Civic knowledge is broadly defined in the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS). as knowledge and understanding of:

    • Civic education – the formal institutions and processes of civic life, such as voting in elections.

    • Citizenship education – how do people participate in society and how do citizens interact with, and shape their communities and societies

    Capacity of understanding in younger persons did show positive findings. Cognitive ability of students is tested in ongoing ICCS studies. Through the questions, students are required to use analysis and reasoning and also their knowledge of civics. In the ICCS it found that, " New Zealand students are generally well-prepared to be active citizens with civic knowledge scores significantly above the international averages".

    Surprisingly, these students in the studies are aged 13 years. The ICCS are conducted through a range of countries.

    https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/series/iccs/what-do-new-zealand-students-understand-about-civic-knowledge-and-citizenship/overview

    The ICCS latest reports and other research are on link here, compiled for comparisons over time for civic knowledge, attitudes and engagement.

    https://www.iea.nl/studies/iea/iccs

  21. Gosman 22

    ANY change to the voting age of this type needs broad cross party support. If only some political parties support it then it should not occur. I see no persuasive reason why 16 and 17 year olds should get the vote that can't also apply to 14 and 15 year olds.

  22. infused 23

    Can't trust them with booze until they are 18, so keep it at 18.

    I was a fucktard at 16 and I was not alone.

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