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Bill to lower local election voting age to 16 goes to select committee

7 September, 2023 

Interview by Joel Armstrong, adapted by David Liwei Shi.

A bill to lower the voting age in local elections to 16 has passed its first parliamentary reading. Make It 16 Co-Director Thomas Brocherie says this is “absolutely monumental” for the progression of their campaign to lower the voting age. Photo: Electoral Commission.

A bill that would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote and run as candidates in local elections has passed its first reading in parliament, with support from Labour, the Greens, and Te Pāti Māori.

The Electoral (Lowering Voting Age for Local Elections and Polls) Legislation Bill will now be sent to the Justice Select Committee, and be open to public submissions.

If implemented by the incoming parliament, Aotearoa would join countries like Scotland, Austria, and Brazil, which have lowered the voting age to 16. But this would not be until 2028, and not apply to general elections.

This comes after the Supreme Court issued a Declaration of Inconsistency in November 2022, identifying that the current voting age of 18 is inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.  

Co-director of Make It 16, the youth-led group advocating for 16 and 17-year-olds to be able to vote, Thomas Brocherie, told 95bFM’s The Wire that the bill passing its first reading is “absolutely monumental” for the progression of their campaign to lower the voting age. 

“It will hopefully show the vast amount of support this idea has. And, of course, no matter what happens after the elections, we do hope that the government will see the merits of this bill, and the merits of lowering the voting age.” 

In the 2022 New Zealand local elections, there was a 42% to 43% voter turnout.

Brocherie believes a lower voting age would build “life-long voting habits” in younger voters, citing a 2014 study from the University of Edinburgh, which found lowering the voting age increases individuals' participation in elections long-term. 

Currently, there is no compulsory curriculum for civics education in schools, which Make It 16 wants to see changed, alongside lowering the voting age. 

“When you allow students to vote earlier, you not only allow them to engage in the education system, but you can also entrench that habit in them while their brains are still developing,”  said Brocherie. 

Brocherie argues that 16 and 17-year-olds should be able to have their voice heard in local decision making, as they are actively involved in their communities, work local jobs, and use council owned public facilities and infrastructure. 

“It’s really important to give them that ability to vote when they are so involved in their communities.”

Brocherie strongly encourages supporters to get involved with Make It 16’s campaign and continue to push for the bill to be passed. 

Make It 16 are also running a free for youth by youth debate, The Youth Debate, on 12 September at 6pm in Tāmaki Makaurau, featuring Te Pati Māori’s Takutai Kemp, the Green Party’s Chlöe Swarbrick, National’s Matt Doocey, Labour’s Arena Williams, and ACT’s Felix Poole. 

“We want to ensure young people's voices are heard throughout this election period," said Brocherie.

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air