A bill that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote and stand as candidates in New Zealand’s local elections has passed its first reading in parliament, nine months after a landmark ruling by the country’s supreme court that the existing age of 18 was inconsistent with human rights law.
The measure passed its first hurdle on Tuesday by 74 votes to 44, supported by all leftwing lawmakers, with the rightwing opposition parties rejecting it. However, the proposal could face a steep uphill battle to pass its final legislative hurdles, and it would not extend voting rights to under-18s in national elections as urged by the young campaigners who brought the supreme court case.
If the law was approved, New Zealand would join a handful of countries – including Scotland, Wales, Argentina, Austria and Cuba – in allowing those as young as 16 to vote in some or all elections. In some cases, change has been prompted by youth campaigns for a greater say on issues affecting young people’s long-term futures, such as the climate crisis.
“It’s about who our democracy should be for, whose voices should be represented on the national and local stage when we make decisions about Aotearoa New Zealand’s future,” said Arena Williams, a Labour party lawmaker, said in a speech to parliament in support of the change on Tuesday. “Issues like climate change mitigation and adaptation … Issues like whether our economy delivers for everyone.”
Sage Garrett, 17, a co-director of the Make it 16 campaign, said his group was “ecstatic” to see the bill pass its first reading, although he was disappointed that the measure, if approved, would not take effect until 2028.
Garrett also decried the “awkward” timing of the bill, which was introduced during the last sitting week of New Zealand’s parliament before it dissolves ahead of a national election. The bill must be approved three times before it becomes law, and its second reading will not occur until after October’s vote.
If the centre-right National party forms a government after the election, toppling Labour, advocates for the change would have to convince those who opposed the measure on Tuesday to reverse their position.
“We understand that politicians are perfectly able to change their mind,” Garrett said. “And because all of the evidence is in our favour, we know that that’s the best thing for all politicians to do.”
Paul Goldsmith, a National party lawmaker opposing the bill, said in a speech to parliament in Wellington that age-based rights and limits varied on other matters in New Zealand. “There’ll be some 16-year-olds who are fantastically interested in politics and fully equipped, I have no criticisms of the ability of some 16-year-olds to vote,” he said. “But you’ve got to go somewhere and that’s for parliament to decide.”
The supreme court ruling last November followed a two-year legal battle by Make it 16, and prompted New Zealand’s highest court to decide that barring 16- and 17-year-olds from voting was at odds with the Bill of Rights Act, which protects those aged 16 or older from discrimination on the basis of age. It was the first time the court had judged a law to be inconsistent with the rights espoused in the act. New Zealand’s then prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, pledged at the time that her government would draft legislation to amend the voting age.
The proposal presented on Tuesday did not seek to change the minimum age of 18 for voting in national elections – which the court had also ruled as unjustified discrimination. But the law governing the voting age nationally can only be amended by a referendum or the approval of a “super-majority” of 75% of New Zealand’s parliament, which the Labour-led government could not have produced.
“We can’t justify work on a bill that we know will not get the support it needs,” said Kieran McAnulty, the minister for local government, in a speech to parliament outlining the proposal. “Instead we’re focusing on local elections as part of our response to the court’s declaration.”
Garrett said lowering the age for local elections first would “open a window of opportunity for people to see just how successful it is for 16- and 17-year-olds to vote”. He added that many teenagers were particularly reliant on services provided by local councils, such as public transport and after-school venues.
“Not one of us would stand for a delay on our fundamental rights,” said Golriz Ghahraman, a Green party lawmaker, in her speech on Tuesday. “Sixteen-year-olds can leave school, they can have sex, they can drive cars, and yes, they can work and pay taxes without representation … We know that they’re ready.”
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/aug/29/new-zealand-bill-to-allow-under-18s-to-vote-in-local-elections-passes-first-hurdle New Zealand: bill to allow under-18s to vote in local elections passes first hurdle | New Zealand