Teens ages 16 and up may soon get the right to vote in New Zealand as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern moves forward with legislation to lower the voting age after the Supreme Court ruled the current age of 18 is discriminatory.
Campaigners for the Make It 16 movement filed a lawsuit arguing teens should have a say on issues like climate change, which affect the youth disproportionately.
The Make It 16 campaign launched shortly after school strikes for climate began mobilizing tens of thousands of teenagers across the country and the climate crisis has loomed large in the background.
“Three years ago, we saw school strikes for climate … and there was a sort of global shift towards how do we give young people more of a say and more of a way to make change on a large scale? Voting was one of those ideas,” said Sanat Singh, Make it 16’s co-founder.
While climate action had been a motivating force, Singh said the same logic – that young people should have a say in issues affecting them – applied to all politics, from public transport funding to mental health. “I was 16 in 2020, which was probably one of the most consequential elections in our lifetime – and issues that mattered to me about mental health, climate change and the state of our democracy were things that I was not able to have a say in,” Singh said.
“It’s a huge day,” he said. “This is historic not only for our campaign but for the country.”
Gen Z has been vocal in its demands for change in the political and international atmosphere.
As the climate crisis raises concerns about the consequences of unfettered abuse of the world’s resources, calls by those who will be most affected have amplified.
And while countries like the United States have moved to silence those voices, New Zealand appears poised to listen to them.
New Zealand’s Human Rights Act opens the door for parliament to consider the action.
The proposed legislation won’t go into effect immediately – three-quarters of Parliament must agree.
The Green and Maori parties have signaled they’re on board, but the center-right National Party has expressed reservations.
“Many other countries have a voting age of 18, and National has seen no compelling case to lower the age,” the Party said in a statement.
“It’s not something we support,” Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon told reporters. “Ultimately, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere, and we’re comfortable with the line being 18.”
A spokesperson for Green party electoral reform, Golriz Ghahraman, said, “We are calling on the government to come to the table with a plan to change the law to extend the voting age,” adding “Young people deserve to have a say in the decisions that affect them, both now and in the future.”
The protection age against discrimination in New Zealand begins at age 16, according to NPR, and judges ruling in favor of the appeal cited the attorney general’s failure to substantiate a credible argument in favor of the current age, versus lowering it to 16.
Only one of the five judges dissented.
If the measure passes, New Zealand will join Brazil, Cuba, Austria, and Malta in lowering their voting ages.
Original reporting by Tess McClure at The Guardian.
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