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  • Will Irvine

Open your mind and open your ears to young people when it comes to voting

The original publication can be found here.

Photo: Robert Kitchin / Stuff

Will Irvine is a member of Make It 16, and was the Youth MP for Nelson at the 2022 Youth Parliament.


Only 42.2% of Kiwis voted in 2019’s local government elections.

This historically low turnout is largely driven by the average Joe’s complete disinterest in local issues. Outside of paying rates, most people rarely engage with their council. For anyone who cares deeply about their local facilities, this is incredibly frustrating.

Equally frustrating is the fact that the very few people who do engage with council services are mostly unable to vote. Young people without cars, without steady income, and often without a place to go after school are perhaps the biggest users of councils' facilities and services like public transport.

So why are 16 and 17-year-olds denied the right to vote at the local level? If you care about voter engagement, you’re likely to support a campaign that would empower thousands of willing and engaged voters. If you care about civics education, why not give young people an incentive to learn about the systems that they are governed by? If you want to develop stronger communities, why not give young people a stake in their own neighbourhoods?

Go onto some Facebook pages, and you’re likely to hear the same few arguments again and again - ‘we shouldn’t give young people the right to vote, their brains haven’t developed fully yet.’ But the best research from overseas shows us that by 16, young people are able to make similar cognitive decisions to their older peers, especially when presented with the months of information and discussion that an election necessitates.

There are always going to be young people who aren’t engaged, just like there are heaps of people over 18 who aren’t either. We don’t ban everyone over 18 from voting just because only 42.2.% of them showed up. Make it 16 offers a way to get young people to care and make civics meaningful. Not only that, but where it has been done overseas they have voted more than their slightly older counterparts, including in Scotland.

To older opponents of Make it 16’s campaign, it might be worth considering how much you have in common with 16 and 17-year-olds. Older people and younger people are largely dependent on the same services. We both care about empowering small communities, providing good public transport infrastructure, and taking action on climate change. We have the same priorities, the same values, and we live in the same communities. If senior citizens aren’t supporting young people, they’re just hurting their own interests.

But let’s return to turnout. The lack of voter turnout at local elections is symptomatic of a wider problem – voters are less and less engaged in their local communities. To change this, we need to start at the dinner table. When young people are interested in local issues, these discussions make their way into the home, driving engagement not just for young people, but for all members of the whānau.

If you’re having doubts about lowering the voting age, it might be worth talking to the young people in your life. See what they’re passionate about – what issues they would change, where they feel let down by the government. Open your mind and open your ears to young people, and you might just find yourselves having a more productive discussion than you could with any adult voter.


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