Every election cycle, we hear the same tired lamentation from politicians, media pundits and various aunts and uncles: “young people don’t show up to vote.” “Young people” are repeatedly described as some homogenous, apathetic villain - lazy bums who don’t care about New Zealand enough to get off their couch and vote or idiots who aren’t smart enough to know how.
But what happens when a large group of young people are begging you to let them vote? Do you let them?
The idea of lowering the voting age from 18 to 16 hasn’t always been a particularly popular one, but it has started to gain more and more traction over the years. This year, a group of young kiwis behind the campaign “Make it 16” have taken their argument - that they should be able to vote, to have a say in their future and the society that they live in - to the High Court, and are now awaiting the final decision.
To me, it seems like a no-brainer.
18 is an arbitrary age to define “adulthood.” Legally, 16 and 17-year-olds can work full time, pay taxes, consent to sex, drive a moped, leave home, consent to medical treatment, pilot an aircraft, buy a lotto ticket and apply for a passport. Why not vote, too?
How is it okay for there to be a group of people who pay taxes but have no say whatsoever in how and where that money is spent? How can we gladly accept the contributions of young people to the economy and society as a whole, while neglecting to give them a say in how that economy and society is run?
If the changes do go ahead, we wouldn’t be the first country to lower the voting age to 16. In the first election where 16 and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote in Scotland, it was found that 75% of 16 and 17-year olds voted, compared to only 54% of 18-24-year-olds and 72% of 25-34-year-olds. Studies and analyses of elections and voting have shown time and time again that voting is habitual - if you vote once, you’re more likely to vote again, and the younger you are the first time you vote, the more likely you are to continue voting.
So, if 16 and 17-year-olds are more likely to vote than 18-24 year olds, and voting once entrenches a habit of continuing to vote throughout your life, lowering the voting age would increase the voter turnout for those 18-24-year-olds everyone seems to be consistently disappointed in. The way I see it, those statistics are a win-win - for the teen activists campaigning for their right to have a voice, and the baby boomers lamenting the fact that that monolith of “young people” “don’t vote.”
I believe that politicians and political parties should have to fight to earn young people’s votes. They should be forced to listen to the issues that young people are disproportionately impacted by. The issues that young people are passionate about. Youth suicide. Online harassment. The housing crisis. Student loans. The climate crisis.
The decisions we’re making in our current elections will impact young people more than anyone else currently able to vote. When we vote on climate issues, we’re voting for or against young people’s futures, and they deserve a say in that.
Just look at the School Strike for Climate marches. Look at the amount of young people that turned up, angry and scared, waving placards with scathingly morbid messages. They all have something to say. They care about the state of our nation and our environment more than most adults I know, so why shouldn’t they be heard?
Do you think that 16 and 17-year-olds aren’t mature or educated enough to make these decisions? In which case: a lowered voting age should come with civics education in secondary schools - which would make young people more educated and informed on how the government works than most adult voters.
Do you think that young people will just vote for whoever their parents vote for? I’m sorry, but have you ever met a 16-year-old? Is there anything they hate more than agreeing with their parents?
Or is the real problem, simply, that you’re afraid that young people will largely vote for parties and MPs that you don’t want to have more power? In which case: you kind of suck.
Young people are not the evil, lazy monolith you have made them out to be. They’re a group of individuals from every possible background, of every possible political leaning, who contribute to our society, bear the brunt of the consequences of our elections and therefore deserve for their voices to be heard. That’s all there is to it.Support Villainesse