Darius Martin-Baker of the Youth Advisory Group is for the voting age to go down to 16. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Sixteen-year-olds should be given the right to vote, according to a neuroscience educator, Northland Youth Advisory Group Member, and youth worker.
The Supreme Court last week ruled in favour of the voting age in Aotearoa
New Zealand being lowered to 16, after a group of campaigners called “Make it 16″ argued that the voting laws are inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act on the basis of age discrimination.
Darius Martin-Baker of the Youth Advisory Group for Whangārei District Council shared his perspective on the issue with the Advocate.
He said he “absolutely agrees” with the Supreme Court’s ruling, and believes due to the responsibilities such as the ability to pay taxes, consent to sex and the ability to move out of home, allowing them to vote should be a definitive right.
“It’s absolutely amazing that we have such a large legal body supporting such an amazing cause,” he said.
There are around 8,000 people in Northland aged 16-18, according to the 2018 Census.
Politicians will now debate the issue in Parliament after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a bill will be crafted.
A change to the voting age would require the consensus of 75 per cent of MPs, which would mean the support of both the Labour Party and the opposition National Party.
Martin-Baker’s perspective is that allowing youth to make decisions about their future makes sense, with global warming, the post-Covid recession and so many decisions impacting the adults of the future.
“We will give them a lot more mana and power to create changes,” he said.
Martin-Baker, who is 19, believes education is a key part of the issue.
“I believe we should be educating the youth on every single form of our democratic process,” he said.
He said during his time at Tauraroa Area School, a representative came from the Electoral Commission to speak about voting.
“Learning about it made me really interested in it and so did many of my friends at the time,” he said, “but by the time it came for me to vote I had lost interest. It was only one lunchtime for the entire year about how our Government works, and that’s like trying to teach somebody algebra in 20 minutes.”
“Being able to have youth at a younger age exposed to what voting actually is and allowing them to have that sort of early involvement, it removes that stigma and it makes it easier for them to understand and want to vote.”
He said part of the issue is involving youth who are in their last two years of education is important.
“We would have more input from people who are currently in that system, which is crucial to its development,” he said, “having that representation could help us better understand our education system for years to come.”
Local organisation Te Ora Hou also weighed in on the issue.
Te Ora Hau works with youth in an aim to “strengthen positive connections between rangatahi and their whanau, peers, school and/or work, and cultural and geographic communities”.
Manager Lou Davidson told the Advocate Te ora Hou would support a lowering of the voting age, if more education came with it.
“It’s really important that people understand how our political system works,” he said, “we would have to have a good process for working with young people to help them understand the system.”
He said it’s great that youth may be given the chance to be “fully involved”.
“If we think about what young people have done, they are pretty adult things as far as being out in the workforce, working for their families, so we see it as a natural rite of passage.”
“It’s something that we think has merit, if supported well,” he said.
Neuroscience educator Nathan Wallis, who lectured in Human Development at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, and travels the country as a neuroscience educator, offered his perspective on the issue.
He said education about the voting system would be beneficial from a neurological perspective, but highlighted the irony in the idea.
“There is no IQ test for anyone else to vote,” he said. “The reality is people don’t vote with a full understanding of politics, so it shouldn’t be any different for a 16-year-old as anyone else.”
He said the issue is cultural rather than biological, and firmly believes the voices of 16-year-olds deserve to be heard.
He also said the idea that 16-year-olds aren’t mature enough to vote is “completely false”.
“Neurologically, there’s no reason people over the age of 7 can’t vote”, he said. “The argument of lack of maturity is a similar argument to when women weren’t allowed to vote.”
Word on the street: What are people in Whangārei saying about the Supreme Court’s ruling?
We went on the streets in Whangārei to ask people what they thought about lowering the voting age to 16:
“I feel like the age is probably quite good at 18 because once you’re a bit younger, I don’t know you’re kind of young and slightly naïve, I guess, 16 is quite young, at 18 its quite exciting to be able to vote, couple of extra years does matter, I reckon.”
“I think they’re still too scatty. I think 16-year olds are just finding themselves and with 16 they’ve just left school and everything is different and they are far more grown-up”
“I thought it was actually really cool because they’re giving more people a voice, I think it’s cool how I’d get to decide as well.”
“I do see how that would work for some people but I’m just thinking of myself at 16 and I don’t think I had the kind of motivation to research stuff deeply enough to make big decisions like that. And I was still quite easily influenced by what friends would be thinking and doing. So I can see that positive to it, but I can also see the downside and how that may not work. So yeah, I’m very 50/50.”