Green MP Golriz Ghahraman calls for voting age to be lowered to 16

  • 21/05/2022

Three Members' Bills have been drawn from the ballot allowing law suggestions from MPs that aren't Ministers, including a call from the Green Party to lower New Zealand's voting age to 16.

The Electoral Strengthening Democracy Amendment Bill sponsored by Green MP Golriz Ghahraman looks to reform seven electoral areas all at once. 

She hopes the bill goes to the select committee to allow views from different groups that have been impacted by the "failure" to reform electoral laws.

"There have been all of these different recommendations, different courts have told us we're breaching various constituent rights. And successive Governments have neglected to pick up electoral reform," Ghahraman told Newshub Nation. 

"What I wanted to do is to bring all of those things together… And say, actually, it's time to take politics out of that."

The proposed changes include enabling Māori to switch electoral roles at any time, giving all prisoners the right to vote and lowering the electoral threshold for entering Parliament, which is the minimum share of the primary vote a candidate or political party need before they are allowed any representation in legislation, from 5 percent to 4.

But Ghahraman's proposed bill also brings up the age-old debate - whether New Zealand should lower the voting age to 16.

"We have 16 and 17-year-olds who we know have their Bill of Rights Act, rights breached by the failure to give them a say in their future. And we're making policy that's going to impact them, their lives for far longer than anyone else," Ghahraman said. 

She said 16 to 17-year-olds are a very engaged group and have stood for what they believe in, which has been demonstrated by the school climate strikes.

"They can leave school, they can work, they pay taxes… But they don't have this one right. And it's just one vote."

Ghahraman said a key reason for lowering the voting age is it will likely increase voter turnout.

She said it is known that if people are enrolled to vote they become lifetime voters. Extending the voting age would get teenagers when they are at school, before they disperse and become harder to reach.

Co-directer of advocacy group Make it 16 Cate Tipler said lowering the voting age is a great prompt to have civics education in schools.

"I think anyone is capable of voting for what they believe in. You don't suddenly know everything about civics once you turn 18," Tipler said.

They said overseas data shows 16 and 17-year-olds turn out to vote at higher rates than 18 to 25-year-olds and 40 percent of 16 and 17-year-olds vote in a way that's different to their parents in countries like Scotland and Wales that already have that voting age. 

They said the Make it 16 campaign took this issue to the Court of Appeal, but despite it being dismissed, the court did say that a voting age of over 18 is unjustified age discrimination and has given the campaign grounds to go to the Supreme Court in July.