OPINION: Lowering the voting age is urgent. It is not an issue we can afford to push to the sidelines.

Young people, writes Make It 16’s co-director Caeden Tipler, are being excluded from the political process which is not fair or democratic, and it’s undermining the legitimacy of New Zealand’s political institutions. 

The recent vague announcements on lowering the voting age from senior ministers come after months of extreme weather, years of a pandemic and a cost of living crisis. 

It also follows wins for our campaign.

The Supreme Court - Aotearoa’s highest court - declared in November that the law preventing 16- and 17-year-olds from voting is inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. 

And in the draft report from the Future of Local Government Review Panel, there was a recommendation in our favour of lowering the voting age.

We have the evidence and the mandate. These past few months are only further proof that the decisions being made by politicians today are for the long-term and will ultimately impact young people the most.

 It is for these reasons that a bill needs to be introduced immediately to lower the voting age.

These reasons are also why we need to pass a bill, not hold a referendum. 

We have never before had a referendum to decide who gets voting rights in Aotearoa. 

What if lowering the voting age to 18 had been decided by referendum? Or to 20? Or even if women’s right to vote was left to a referendum only men could vote in? 

The last one may seem far fetched. But it happened in Switzerland in 1959 with men voting to stop women from voting (eventually women got the vote federally in 1971 and in all regions in 1990). 

Like 16-year-olds here are being told now, women were also told they were too immature or didn’t have the life experience to vote. 

Women were told, without evidence, that they would vote like their husbands. 16 and 17-year-olds are told, against evidence, we’ll just vote like our parents. 

Lessons from places like Scotland and Austria, where the voting age has been lowered to 16, show 16-year-olds are more than capable of voting, and will do so in high numbers.

I acknowledge that a referendum makes sense for some constitutional issues - just not on human rights issues. 

The majority should not determine if the minority gets any say at all. Human rights should not be popularity contests. 

We know that from here the climate crisis will only worsen. 

As an Aucklander who was 16 during the last local elections I didn’t have a say in my council representatives. 

Yet like anyone 18 or older, I live, work, and go to university in this city. This is especially poignant when I was also impacted by the extreme flooding and lack of official communication on the eve of Auckland Anniversary weekend. 

I was ready to vote, and our participation in society, and the climate crisis, means we shouldn't have another local election which excludes 16 and 17-year-olds.

This needs to be the last election where 16 and 17-year-olds don’t get to vote. 

That means introducing a bill now to lower the voting age for the next local election in 2025. 

We cannot stand for a Parliament that can deny voting rights without justification. 

The Government’s lack of justification for stopping 16 and 17 year-olds from voting wasn’t good enough for the Supreme Court, and it is not good enough for rangatahi.

We are continuously told that we can engage in other ways. 

There are youth councils, but they are some of the first to lose funding under Wayne Brown’s Auckland Council Budget. 

We are told we can present to Select Committees, or to Review Panels, which mostly take submissions during school hours or in ways that are inaccessible to young people. 

We can protest, as thousands of rangatahi did last week for demands which included lowering the voting age, but then we’re also often ridiculed by politicians and ignored. 

This shows that despite being told we can just be politically engaged in a million other ways, there is still no substitute for voting.  

As a 16-year-old, you can lead a case that wins at the Supreme Court. 

You can deliver a petition that’s been signed by thousands of people. The Make It 16 campaign can bring open letters, and evidence from overseas to Parliament. 

But the Government may still deny you your right to be free from discrimination because it doesn’t work for them politically

It is time for our political leaders to acknowledge the importance of our voices, the need to strengthen our democracy, and the obligation to uphold our rights. 

The Government urgently needs to implement a bill to lower the voting age, and not a referendum.

Caeden Tipler (they/them) is a student and organiser based in Tāmaki Makaurau. They’re the Co-Director of the Make it 16 campaign.

More stories:

Supreme Court rules NZ voting age is a human rights breach

Make it 16's co-director Caeden Tipler says it's an historic judgement.

I’m 16: Why do I need my mum’s permission to change my name

“We have autonomy except in this area.”

‘Will I die waiting for health care?’: NZers rally for trans rights

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Tāmaki Makaurau and Pōneke last weekend.