Today the Government has introduced a Bill to Parliament to lower the voting age for local elections, following through on its commitment made following the Supreme Court declaring that the voting age of 18 for local and general elections is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights. This comes after the Review into the Future of Local Government recommended lowering the voting age for local elections and 7 of New Zealand’s largest councils have endorsed it including Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin City Councils.
“This is a momentous day for the rights of rangatahi. This Bill comes after years of sustained pressure from young people and calls from across the Local Government sector to lower the voting age, not to mention the Supreme Court’s declaration that a voting age of 18 is inconsistent with 16 and 17 year-olds fundamental rights. We thank the government for introducing it, and are now focused on getting all parties to support a lower voting age for local elections” says Make It 16 co-director Thomas Brocherie (he/him).
“Young people are just as impacted by local decisions as people over 18, and they deserve to have a say in these decisions too. We take buses, use parks and roads, and will be significantly impacted by climate decisions we have no say on without a vote. Lowering the voting age for local elections will help fix that.
“There are also significant turnout benefits from lowering the voting age to 16. Recent research from Scotland has shown that not only do 16 and 17 year-olds vote at a higher rate than their slightly older counterparts, but they are also more likely to vote later in life as the voting habit sticks. Given turnout in the 2022 local elections was just 40%, this is badly needed.
“The Review into the Future of Local Government agreed. It recommended lowering the voting age for local elections, and 7 large councils have endorsed it. We are glad the government is heeding their calls and responding to the Supreme Court’s declaration that preventing 16 and 17 year-olds from voting is unjustified age discrimination in breach of the Bill of Rights.”
“Make It 16 is now focused on getting the support of all politicians for a voting age of 16. Especially those who have yet to make their position clear, such as the ACT Party who have indicated they may be more comfortable lowering the voting age for local elections rather than general elections.”
The Review into the Future of Local Government’s final report can be found here: https://www.futureforlocalgovernment.govt.nz/assets/future-for-local-government-final-report.pdf
Turnout figures for the 2022 local elections are summarised here: https://www.votelocal.co.nz/final-voter-turnout-results/
Dunedin City Council endorsed lowering the voting age in its submission to the Review into the Future of Local Government. Christchurch City Council has supported lowering the voting age to 16 since early 2020 when it submitted in support of the change to Justice Select Committee’s review into the 2019 local elections (which it repeated in the review of the 2022 local elections). Wellington City Council has advocating for lowering the voting age to 16 in its Children and Young People Strategy from 2021. Hutt City, Porirua City, and Kapiti Coast District Councils all passed resolutions in December last year supporting lowering the voting age to 16. Selwyn District Council told the Review into the Future of Local Government that “Lowering the voting age to 16 gives life to intergenerational decision-making.”
In December 2022 72 local government elected members signed an open letter to cabinet supporting a voting age of 16 and calling on the government’s promised Bill to contain a separate vote in Parliament on local and general elections.
Dr Jan Eichhorn and Dr Christine Hübner did research on the impact of lowering the voting age on voter turnout in Scotland and found that not only do 16/17 year-olds turnout at higher rates, but also people who vote for the first time at 16/17 are more likely to vote later in life https://www.sps.ed.ac.uk/votes-at-16-in-scotland-study
For the Act Party view on local elections, see reports such as this one: https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/479271/labour-considers-voting-age-change-for-council-elections
The Bill does not change the voting age for alcohol licencing trusts and specifies that the jury age will remain at 18