On June 28th, Make it 16 published their petition to the House of Representatives, calling for the national voting age to be lowered to 16.
Formed in 2019, Make it 16 is a youth-led, non-partisan campaign advocating for 16 and 17 year olds to have a voice in our democracy. Their recent petition to lower New Zealand’s voting age follows an unsuccessful appeal to the High Court in 2020. The group is due to appeal again on August the 5th 2021, in hopes of extending the voting age in time for the 2022 local elections. Receiving over 1000 signatures in the first 24 hours, an endorsement from the beloved Siouxsie Wiles, and significant media coverage, the campaign’s legitimacy is on the rise.
Cate Tipler, Make it 16’s Co-Director, told Craccum that their petition’s success shows more people are in support of lowering the voting age than ever before. “The petition we launched has proved Make it 16 is gaining more and more popularity. If we had launched a year ago we wouldn’t see the support we are receiving now.” Tipler hopes that popular public sentiment will assist in the campaign’s upcoming legal pursuits. “I think the petition could help us in Parliament. It would prove it’s what the people want.” Others, however, are not as optimistic about public support. University of Auckland professor, Dr Lara Greaves, told Craccum that “polls are showing 15%- 20% are Pro-Make it 16. It’s a minority of people. I can see it happening, but not in the next ten years.”
Make it 16’s campaign is situated in the era of imminent climate change, rising housing prices, and the Covid-19 impacted economy our generation will inherit. Tipler believes that lowering the voting age would aid in addressing these issues. “16 and 17-year-olds are more likely to vote on the big picture, not themselves. Lowering the voting age will help us to achieve bold change.” However, the long-term trajectory to lower our voting age, as expected by polling, may stall the needed bold change Tipler describes. “The problem is it’s not clear that we have time.” Dr. Greaves said, sharing her concerns about these issues. “The planet is going to die… It’s frustrating.”
Lowering our voting age has frequently been attached to the condition of civics education first being introduced to our classrooms — a position stated by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a 2020 election debate. Although no draft civics education currently exists, the developing Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum by the Ministry of Education would introduce New Zealand history into our national syllabus. Such policies signal what Dr Greaves identified as “building blocks”, or long-term steps towards ‘making it 16’.
Civics education would inevitably impact the voting traditions of 18-24 year-olds, a demographic largely associated with underperformance at our polls. Though this underperformance is often cited by the campaign’s critics, both Make it 16 and Dr Greaves remind doubters that the earlier an individual votes in their lives, the more likely they are to habitually vote. “If you enrol them at 16, at school, that’s better than trying to access 18 or 19 year-olds,” said Dr Greaves. “You need to lessen the steps between the person and the voting.”
Many university students are already eligible to vote, but Tipler argues they are essential to their campaign. Tipler says while some 18 and 19 year-olds do not support the campaign, lowering the voting age would be beneficial to issues such as affordable housing and climate action that affect students. Stephanie, a University of Auckland student who voted in our 2020 election, says she can relate and sympathise with the cause and gives it her full support. “My experience from starting University at 17 has supported my perspective on this issue. I was not legally allowed to vote, but had to take out a student loan, work for minimum wage, and pay tax.” The best way University students can support the campaign, according to Tipler, is to sign Make it 16’s petition. “You can find the petition link in our Instagram bio (@makeit16nz) or by googling Make it 16 petition.”
Though the success of their policy is yet to be seen, Make it 16 has undoubtedly been successful in drawing attention to their campaign. As their movement continues to gain momentum, New Zealand’s consideration of lowering our voting age will be heard at the highest levels, potentially becoming a key policy in elections to come.