WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND (AP) – New Zealand lawmakers will take a vote on whether to lower the national voting age from 18 to 16, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday.
Her announcement came hours after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that not allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote amounted to age discrimination.
But while Ardern said she personally favours lowering the age, such a change would require a 75-per-cent supermajority of lawmakers to agree. And even proponents acknowledge they don’t currently have the numbers.
A number of countries are debating whether to lower their voting age. Some that allow people to vote at 16 include Austria, Malta, Brazil, Cuba and Ecuador.
Co-director of New Zealand’s Make It 16 campaign Sanat Singh said he was absolutely thrilled with the court’s decision.
“It’s a huge day,” he said. “This is historic not only for our campaign, but for the country.”
Singh, 18, said existential issues like climate change – as well as issues like pandemic recovery and the state of democracy – will most affect young people.
“That’s why I think it’s really important to get all hands on deck to make sure we can have a stronger future,” he said.
Ardern, who leads the liberal Labour Party, said lawmakers should have a say on the issue.
“I personally support a decrease in the voting age but it is not a matter simply for me or even the government,” Ardern said.
“Any change in electoral law of this nature requires 75 per cent of parliamentarians’ support.” Ardern said the vote would likely take place within the coming months but any change would not take effect until after next year’s general election.
The liberal Green Party said it supported a change.
“Young people deserve to have a say in the decisions that affect them, both now and in the future,” said the party’s electoral reform spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman.
New Zealand’s voting age was previously lowered from 21 to 20 in 1969, and then to 18 in 1974.