New Zealand court rules voting age of 18 is discriminatory; 16 is old enough

In a photo taken on Sept 19., 2017, New Zealand's PM Jacinda Ardern speaks during a visit to Victoria University. PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON – New Zealand’s highest court ruled on Monday that the country’s current voting age of 18 was discriminatory, forcing Parliament to discuss whether it should be lowered.

The case, which has been going through the courts since 2020, was bought by advocacy group Make It 16, which wants the age lowered to include 16 and 17-year-olds.

The Supreme Court found that the current voting age of 18 was inconsistent with the country’s Bill of Rights, which gives people a right to be free from age discrimination when they have reached 16.

The decision triggers a process in which the issue must come before Parliament for discussion and be reviewed by a parliamentary select committee. But it does not force Parliament to change the voting age.

After the ruling, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern quickly unveiled draft legislation lowering the voting age, but warned changes would be difficult to pass and could not be in place before the 2023 general election.

Ms Ardern supports the change, but stressed that her vote would be just one in New Zealand’s 120-strong Parliament.

“I personally support a decrease in the age, but it is not a matter for me or even the government,” she told reporters in Wellington. “Any change of electoral law of this nature requires 75 pe rcent of parliamentarians’ support. That’s why it’s our view that this is an issue best placed to parliament for everyone to have their say.”

“This is history,” said Make It 16 co-director Caeden Tipler, adding: “The government and Parliament cannot ignore such a clear legal and moral message. They must let us vote.”

The group says on its website there is insufficient justification to stop 16 year olds from voting when they can drive, work full time and pay tax.

Political parties in New Zealand have mixed views on the subject.

The Green Party wants immediate action to lower the voting age to 16, but the largest opposition party, the National party, does not support the shift.

“Obviously, we’ve got to draw a line somewhere,” said National party leader Christopher Luxon. “We’re comfortable with the line being 18. Lots of different countries have different places where the line’s drawn and from our point of view, 18‘s just fine.”

The Labour government has not publicly commented on the decision.

Only a handful of countries in the world have a voting age of 16, most notably Brazil. Academics have found lowering the voting age tends to improve political engagement, but the results vary from country to country. REUTERS, AFP

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.