Teens take fight for right to vote to Court of Appeal

Campaigners trying to lower the voting age will be back in court on Thursday, arguing the High Court got it wrong when it ruled discrimination against 16- and 17-year-olds was "justified". 

In October the court found while the current voting age of 18 was "inconsistent with the right to be free from age discrimination" - as the Human Rights Law Centre put it - it was a "justified limit".

While the Bill of Rights Act states every citizen 18 or over has the right to vote, section 19 says "everyone has the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of discrimination in the Human Rights Act 1993", which kicks in at age 16. 

The Bill of Rights Act says limits on freedoms "may be subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society". 

The Make it 16 campaign is putting its case forward to the Court of Appeal. 

"Voting is a human right, and we believe there's insufficient justification for blocking 16- and 17-year-olds from voting," co-director Cate Tipler told The AM Show on Thursday. "At its core, and why we're at court, is it's a human rights issue." 

They said at present, 16-year-olds can be made to pay taxes "without representation", and many are clearly politically active and aware - as the recent School Strike 4 Climate protests showed

"Giving 16- and 17-year-olds the vote will mean a stronger democracy where more voices can be represented," said Tipler. "Aotearoa and the world are facing huge long-term challenges, and the political decisions being made today will affect young people the most." 

Several countries already have a voting age as low as 16, including Austria, Scotland, Argentina, Wales, Cuba, Brazil, Nicaragua and Ecuador. In most countries it's 18, but some restrict people until they're in their early 20s, including Malaysia and Singapore. 

It's often claimed young people don't exercise their right to vote, but in 2020 enrolled 18- to 24-year-olds in New Zealand voted at higher rates than anyone else under 40, Electoral Commission data shows. 

Cate Tipler.
Cate Tipler. Photo credit: The AM Show

Tipler said 16- and 17-year-olds are even more enthusiastic.

"In other countries like Austria and Scotland that already have a voting age of 16, we've seen 16- and 17-year-olds turn up to vote in higher rates than 18- to 24-year-olds, which proves that civics education shouldn't be a barrier to lowering the voting age.

More than 2300 people have signed a petition backing the Make it 16 campaign. Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft has offered his support, but National in 2019 said it wouldn't, youth spokesperson Nicola Willis telling Newshub turning 18 was a "wonderful right of passage" that brought with it the right to vote. 

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