New Zealand may be joining a long list of countries that have changed the voting age to 16, but in Australia it’s not a question of “if”, but “when”.
New Zealand’s youth have won a historic victory in the Supreme Court after a verdict declared that current voting laws violate the country’s Bill of Rights.
Make it 16 is an impartial, youth-led campaign with one goal: to lower the voting age so that 16 and 17 year olds can vote.
“We believe in the power of young people’s voices and in empowering young people to have a say in the decisions that will have the most impact on them,” Make it 16 says on his website.
“There are many reasons why we believe in lowering the voting age, but fundamentally, voting is a human right.”
However, the question of whether the voting age will be lowered in New Zealand will be put to parliament. Make it 16 co-director Caeden Tipler said the verdict was “historic”.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has expressed personal support for lowering the voting age, but noted that an amendment to the electoral law would require the support of 75 percent of parliament.
Bill to change Australia’s voting age
In 2018, Australia’s youngest elected senator, Jordon Steele-John, introduced a bill hoping to lower the minimum, but not mandatory, voting age in Australia to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote and 14 – and register 15-year-olds.
The bill is still on bill paper in the Senate for the 47th Parliament.
In a statement to TBEN Mr Steele-John said news from the Tasman was “so exciting” and he hoped getting younger people to vote in Australia would soon become a reality.
“I first introduced a bill in 2018 to lower the voting age, as the years go by and governments change, we need radical action more than ever,” he said.
“Giving the right to vote to young people in Australia is vital to getting major parties to take action on the climate crisis.”
He said he felt a responsibility to do what he could to empower young people, and believes lowering the legal voting age was one way to do just that.
Stephen Bates is now tackling youth issues for the party: He said the issue is still on the agenda and will be something the Greens will commit to in the new year.
Should Australia lower the voting age?
In 2018, several individuals and organizations supported lowering the voting age in Australia.
The Human Rights Law Center, she said, was in favor of the changes, saying lowering the voting age would be the “next step in developing democratic inclusion”.
Scientia Professor George Williams of the University of NSW was among those who expressed support for the bill in 2018. He told The new newspaper his position on the matter has not changed.
“I also think that 16-year-olds are ready to participate in our democracy in a bigger way and they can make a really good contribution,” he said.
“And that combining this with social studies is a very positive way of educating those people about their obligations and building them up to be good citizens from an early age.”
He says 16- and 17-year-olds are mature enough to drive, work, pay taxes and leave school if they want to, so they’re mature enough to vote.
“I think they are able to cast a vote. And I don’t necessarily see less political maturity or knowledge in that age group [compared to] some other age groups,” he said.
It is also more difficult to get young people to register to vote.
For some 18 and 19 year olds, those years mean moving out of the house and perhaps not having a permanent address. Signing up to vote may not be the first thing on their list when they come of age.
But Professor Williams argues that 16- and 17-year-olds generally have more stability, as most still live at home, and enrolling can be part of the education process.
Voting laws around the world
Countries where people from the age of 16 are allowed to vote are Scotland, Cuba, Brazil and Austria.
In Sudan, South Sudan, Indonesia and Greece, the legal voting age is 17.
Mr Bates said Scotland was a good example of the age change, noting it happened in time for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.
In turn, more young people turned out to vote, proving that it is a way to involve young people in politics.
The voting age has changed over time: Professor Williams said there was a global shift in the 1970s, with countries lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.
The change happened in 1971 for the US, and Australia followed suit and changed the age in 1973.
“I think the expectations of young people in society have changed a lot,” Bates said.
“That was the argument used to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 – people at that age, who … could fully participate in society.
“And that’s essentially what we expect from 16-year-olds now.”
The Human Rights Law Center said in its 2018 entry that the change reflected “changing societal attitudes” and was in line with legal rights and responsibilities of the time.
It’s not a matter of “if” but “when,” said Professor Williams, adding that Australia, along with several other places in the world, is on track to lower the voting age.
“I think this is the next big shift in the franchise that we’re seeing around the world.”