• June 7, 2017
While 16-year-olds won’t be able to visit the polls on September 23, Professor McGregor hopes they will during the next election in 2021. Photo: Supplied
A social sciences and public policy expert has launched a campaign to lower the voting age to 16, saying it will allow young people to hold the Government accountable for its actions.
Auckland University of Technology Professor Judy McGregor said she launched the ‘Vote@16’ campaign after becoming interested in the United Kingdom post-Brexit debate.
“It was quite clear that younger people had a stronger sense of wanting to stay within the European Union, but of course many young people in Britain, like in New Zealand, are deprived of the opportunity to vote,” said Professor McGregor.
She cited the Scottish Government’s decision to grant 16-year-olds the right to vote in domestic legislation such as the independence referendum.
“There was about 80 per cent registered of 16 to 18-year-olds, and about 75 per cent of them actually cast a vote, which is much higher than the disengaged youth of 18 to 24-year-olds,” said Professor McGregor.
Politicians don’t think they have to answer to younger constituencies, she added.
The former newspaper editor and equal employment opportunities commissioner at the Human Rights Commission also urged the Government to introduce a civic education programme in schools. This which would teach young New Zealanders about the parliamentary and legal system, she said.
Labour deputy leader Jacinda Ardern agreed, saying civic education would place young Kiwis on an equal, if not better footing than older voters.
“I have faith in young people’s ability to come to terms with our political system and to then be a part of it,” said Ms Ardern.
“At the moment we don’t do a very good job of showing young people how relevant politics is to their day-to-day lives, so it’s the kind of message we as politicians need to convey because everything that we make a decision over will have an effect on young people.”
She said Labour would consider lowering the voting age if elected into power this September.
“It’s been pushed really hard by the youth sector of the Labour Party and we have said it is something we would spend time looking into,” said Ms Ardern.
In a statement to Te Waha Nui, Prime Minister Bill English said he would not raise the age, choosing to focus on lifting engagement in the existing voter pool.
“My experience is that 18 and 19-year-olds who vote think quite deeply about their choices,” said Mr English.
“The challenge is to encourage more young people to participate in the process.”