I am a big supporter of 16-year-olds being able to vote. If they can get married, assumably then officially able to have children, and we can send them off to war, then they should also be able to vote.
The education system should have a section on “civics” where young people can be introduced to the elements of democracy. Our democratic system has been abused and misrepresented by so many quarters that the education system could remedy this with a formal curriculum.
Spinoff had an excellent summary of the decision including this piece:
Contrary to a few jubilant takes, the Supreme Court did not say “yass my 16 and 17-year-old kweens”, nor make a decision in favour of 16 and 17-year-olds having the right to vote. What it did do was grant a declaration that the provisions of the Electoral Act and of the Local Electoral Act which provide for a minimum voting age of 18 years are inconsistent with the right in s19 of the Bill of Rights to be free from discrimination on the basis of age.
The Supreme Court said the Crown had not yet justified the age limit, but it could later show it to be justified.
The Make It 16 group, who have been advocating for lowering the voting age to 16, took a case to the High Court and the Court of Appeal earlier this year but failed in its bids to get a declaration of inconsistency. The Appeal Court actually agreed there was no justification to exclude 16 and 17-year-olds from voting but stopped short of making a declaration, arguing it was an “intensely and quintessentially” political issue. Justice Ellen France said the Court of Appeal was wrong not to make a declaration and granted the appeal. Getting the judgment from the Supreme Court is not just a moral victory for Make It 16. It’s a tangible result that requires a response from parliament.
Why does it require a response?
The declaration forces action. Any declaration of inconsistency with the Bill of Rights requires:
- the attorney-general to notify the House of Representatives of the court’s declaration of inconsistency within six sitting days after the declaration becomes final; and
- the minister responsible to present the government response within six months of the attorney-general notifying the House.
That’s a new thing, enabled by the passing of The New Zealand Bill of Rights (Declarations of Inconsistency) Amendment Bill in August this year. What it doesn’t mean is instant voting rights for 16 and 17-year-olds. A declaration does not affect the validity of an Act, or anything done lawfully under that Act. Nor does it require parliament to pass a law allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote.
It was the political responses which surprised me.
Firstly National‘s response
National’s justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said the party has other priorities. “National’s priorities in justice are reducing violent, youth and gang crime, as well as clearing court backlogs,” Goldsmith said.
“With violent crime up by 21 percent, a 50 percent increase in gang membership and a 500 percent increase in ram-raids, these are pressing matters the Labour Government are failing to get under control.”
I don’t think I have seen a dumber response to an issue than this. If this reflects the depth of the National Party policy thinking, then we are in trouble as a country. The question was whether young people over 16 could vote. Relating it to youth crime does reflect a sad lack of intelligence.
ACT leader David Seymour said: “We don’t want 120,000 more voters who pay no tax voting for lots more spending.
“The Supreme Court needs to stick to its knitting and quit the judicial activism.
“There is nothing stopping 16-year-olds from getting involved in politics already if they’re so inclined and ACT encourages them to do so. The more politically-savvy and tuned-in people are when they do become eligible to vote the better.
“My proposition to 16 and 17-year-old voters is this. There’s only a two out of three chance that you’ll get an extra vote out of this, but you will pay extra tax for whatever crazy thing 16 and 17-year-olds voted for at the last election.”
If David Seymour is worried about people who do not pay taxes, he probably should start looking at many of the people who vote for his party. However, I digress. The issue was not about taxes. Even if he is wrong about young people paying taxes. When I observe my own family two of my grandchildren work in our business behind the scenes. They both pay tax. In their everyday life they purchase items and pay GST automatically. I think, again, this was a dumb PR driven response.
The other issue of attacking the judiciary was they were merely interpreting the law. I thought that was their job.
If this is the depth of how our politicians think through issues, then goodness help our country.
Henry Cooke wrote in his sub-stack Museum Street from London:
Basically, that any line is arbitrary – 16 as much as 18. 18 has been in place for close to fifty years without too much opposition and the overwhelming will of the (18+) public seems for it to be to stay that way. We shouldn’t look to change these tenets of our voting process without a much more concerted and democratic push for change – like the one that eventually won MMP in the early 1990s.
As Justice Kós argued in his dissent, expanding the franchise is inherently political – and thus the domain of Parliament. New Zealand has been (mostly) blessed with a bipartisan record of electoral law, ever since the landmark Electoral Act 1956. That act, hammered out by Labour and National, stopped constant tinkering with the length of the Parliamentary term and established the “reserved” provisions – basically parts of electoral law that can only be changed by a 75% majority in Parliament or a referendum, not the simple majority (50%) needed for all over changes. (I highly recommend Elizabeth McLeay’s book on this law.)