Make it 16:

Make it 16:

Young people pushing to change our voting age

Young people face a plethora of existential issues, such as the housing crisis, climate change and student debt. But, if you’re under the age of 18, you can’t vote on the issues that will most impact your future. The crew of Make it 16, a non-partisan, youth-led campaign, want to lower the voting age. Ella Flavell and Cate Tipler are two key members of this campaign. 

Ella, the general secretary, said her passion for lowering the voting age began when she was in high school and started working. Although she was paying taxes, Ella found she wasn’t able to vote on the issues she cared most about due to her age. “I was really passionate about housing and transport and climate change, but I missed voting in the 2017 election by a month.” 

Cate, the co-director of Make it 16, had a similar experience. “I’m 16, and I’m currently in high school, and I became involved with the campaign after the 2020 election,” they said. “I was super frustrated because it felt like all the issues being brought up by young people weren’t being taken seriously by politicians, and nobody was talking nearly enough about how young people are going to inherit the world that politicians are creating.” Cate says they found this “painful and frustrating”. 

“All the young people in my life had opinions about that election and they all deserve to have a voice in that election, but couldn’t because of their voting age. 16-year-olds can already choose to leave school, they can leave home, work full time, they’re paying taxes, they can apply for a gun licence, so it just makes sense that young people should be able to vote as well when they’re impacted by so many different aspects of society.”

Another driving factor behind the campaign is the feeling that older generations often don’t understand what it is like to be a young person in our current society. “Someone who is old right now doesn’t know what it’s like to be a young person, they don’t know what it’s like to have the same struggles we do,” said Ella. “16- and 17-year-olds [… ] contribute a perspective that isn’t there. They don’t know what it’s like to be in school.” 

The opposition to lowering the voting age hinges on the argument that young people don’t know enough, or don’t have enough life experience to be able to make informed political decisions. “If you needed experience in life to be required to vote, then that would be ridiculous because you’d have to put people through tests, that wouldn’t be a democracy, that's a meritocracy,” said Ella. “Lowering the voting age is a great way to get people to learn about civics in general, and you can apply it straight away. If you look at Scotland and Austria, the turnout for 16- and 17-year-olds was higher than those aged 18 to 24, which shows the value that it brings.”

“There’s this notion from adults that only a couple of us have strong opinions, but what I know from being in high school and speaking to young people every day is that most young people care about their communities and most young people would be just as capable of voting,” said Cate. 

The case for Make it 16 is based on the argument that our voting age is inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, as a form of age discrimination. This means that the voting age is not a political issue, but rather a legal issue. On July 12th, Make it 16 took their case to the Supreme Court after the Court of Appeal said the Crown cannot justify a voting age of 18.

While the court cannot change the law on its own and the issue will need to go to Parliament, Cate thinks that this will lead to more momentum on the issue. “I’m optimistic because regardless of what happens at the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal has said that the Crown cannot justify a voting age of 18. Regardless of the decision, our campaign will not be over.” 

Sometimes, many young people do feel apathetic towards voting. There are attitudes out there that voting doesn’t matter, because either way, nothing really happens when it comes to tackling massive core issues like climate change. To those who feel disenfranchised toward politics, or aren’t sure why they should vote, the Make it 16 crew has one message: 

“If you’re going to do one thing in your life, I’d say put in your vote. That’s what motivates politicians; they want to keep their position and privilege, [and] you can vote because then you're their client,” said Ella. “If we don’t want to burn up, as we are the ones who have to live in the future that’s being decided on, we need to be able to say ‘this is what we want, these things’, as these things disproportionately affect young people.”

Keep up to date with the campaign by checking out the website. 

This article first appeared in Issue 15, 2022.
Posted 4:12pm Sunday 17th July 2022 by Annabelle Vaughan.