New Zealand decides to lower voting age from 18 to 16: NPR

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New Zealand decides to lower voting age from 18 to 16: NPR
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A vote is cast in Tauranga, New Zealand, during a by-election on April 27, 2018.

Andrew Warner/AP


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New Zealand Decides To Lower Voting Age From 18 To 16: Npr

A vote is cast in Tauranga, New Zealand, during a by-election on April 27, 2018.

Andrew Warner/AP

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand lawmakers will vote on whether to lower the national voting age from 18 to 16, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday.

His announcement came hours after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that not allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote constituted age discrimination.

But while Ardern said she personally favors lowering the age, such a change would require a 75% supermajority of lawmakers to agree. And even proponents admit they don’t currently have the numbers.

A number of countries are debating whether to lower their voting age. Some that allow people to vote at 16 include Austria, Malta, Brazil, Cuba and Ecuador.

Sanat Singh, co-director of New Zealand’s Make It 16 campaign, said he was absolutely delighted with the court’s decision.

“It’s a huge day,” he said. “This is historic not only for our campaign, but for the country.”

Singh, 18, said existential issues like climate change – as well as issues like pandemic recovery and the state of democracy – will affect young people the most.

“That’s why I think it’s really important to get everyone on board to make sure we can have a stronger future,” he said.

Ardern, who leads the Liberal Labor Party, said all lawmakers should have a say in the matter.

“I personally support a lowering of the voting age, but it’s not just an issue for me or even for the government,” Ardern said. “Any change to the electoral law of this nature requires 75% support from parliamentarians.”

Ardern said the vote would likely take place in the coming months, but any changes would not take effect until after the general election next year.

The Liberal Green Party has said it supports change.

“Young people deserve a say in decisions that affect them, now and in the future,” said Golriz Ghahraman, party spokesman for electoral reform.

But New Zealand’s two main Conservative opposition parties have said they oppose a change.

“It’s not something we support,” Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon told reporters. “At the end of the day, you have to draw the line somewhere, and we’re comfortable with the line at 18.”

At the Supreme Court, four justices ruled in favor of the lobby group’s appeal, with a fifth justice disagreeing with some aspects of the decision.

In New Zealand, protection against age discrimination begins at 16 and judges ruled the attorney general failed to show why 18 was chosen as the voting age rather than 16.

The nature of the court’s ruling compelled New Zealand lawmakers to at least debate the issue, but it didn’t compel them to vote or make a change.

Singh said he hoped that even though his group did not yet have the 75% support it needed in parliament, it would get there in the next few years. He said a possible first step would be to lower the voting age to 16 for local council elections, as that change only requires a regular majority of lawmakers.

The voting age in New Zealand was lowered from 21 to 20 in 1969 and then to 18 in 1974.

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