The Future for Local Government review panel faces immediate opposition as it recommends lowering the voting age, four-year terms and new revenue streams
Seventeen-year-old Caeden Tipler wasn’t able to vote in this month’s council elections – but hopes Parliament will mark next year’s 130th anniversary of women’s suffrage by extending the vote to young people.
The Make It 16 campaign comes one step closer to realisation this morning, with a recommendation from a government-commissioned Future for Local Government draft report to lower the voting age in council elections. The next step, Tipler says, would be Parliamentary elections as well.
As with New Zealand’s groundbreaking 1893 decision to give women the vote, there is opposition from those who are already enfranchised. Many men opposed women getting the vote; similarly, many older voters oppose extending it to 16- and 17-year-olds.
A Curia Market Research poll of 1,000 eligible voters, published today by the Taxpayers Union and Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance, finds that 79 percent oppose lowering the voting age.
“The review panel’s recommendation to lower the voting age to 16 is woefully out of touch,” says local government campaigns manager Josh Van Veen. “Only two in five New Zealanders vote in local elections. That won’t change just because we give high school kids the right to vote.”
Young people support lowering voting age; older people oppose it
The poll shows that older respondents are progressively more opposed to lowering the voting age. Among those aged 60-plus, 84 percent oppose giving older teens the vote.
“The problem is more fundamental,” Van Veen says. “We need to give local communities real decision-making power … The Government’s approach to Three Waters, the abolition of District Health Boards, and other examples of centralisation, are inconsistent with local democracy.”
The Curia findings stand in contrast to a self-selecting online survey targeting young people, conducted by Toi Āria on behalf of the review panel. That also asked the questions of 1220 teenagers aged 10 to 17. It found 57 percent supported lowering the voting age, and just 23 percent opposed it.
“Many of the youth and rangatahi that we’ve engaged with have been highly capable people who show great maturity beyond their years in thinking about critical issues.”
– Jim Palmer, Future for Local Government review
Respondents to that survey who were 18-55 were moderately supportive of a lower voting age, but those 55-plus opposed it – reflecting the same finding as the Curia poll.
Tipler, who delivered a petition to Parliament this year to lower the voting age, was disappointed by the visceral reaction on social media from older people. “Sixteen- and 17-year olds are criticised for being too emotional to vote; that we’ll make decisions based on emotional reactions,” Tipler says.
“But what we’ve seen online is adults, especially older adults, having immediate emotional reactions to the idea of lowering the voting age. And that kind of shows a double standard.”
“What’s frustrating about the hate is that the same reasons why people say 16- or 17-year-olds shouldn’t vote – that we’re not mature enough, that we’re not intelligent enough – are the same reasons that were applied to women, when women were trying to get the right to vote.”
The Supreme Court is considering an appeal from Make It 16, whose members argue that preventing them voting is unjustified age discrimination. The Human Rights Act 1993 makes it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age against anyone over 16.
Jim Palmer, the chair of the Future for Local Government review, says the panel’s survey of young people shows a depth and maturity of thinking: they are deeply concerned and interested in issues that affect community, such as sustainability, the environment, and community safety.
“We need to invest significantly in civics education as part of the work that we’re doing across the nation,” he tells Newsroom.
He welcomes a debate about whether the existing age cut-off is discriminatory. “Many of the youth and rangatahi that we’ve engaged with have been highly capable people who show great maturity beyond their years in thinking about critical issues and perspectives that enrich the debate and hopefully ensure that decisions are more inclusive and think about all of our community.
“They’ve made a compelling case to us.”