Court rejects lobby group's efforts to lower New Zealand's voting age

The court says voting age was an "intensely and quintessentially political issue"

Court rejects lobby group's efforts to lower New Zealand's voting age

The Court of Appeal has rejected a lobby group’s bid to lower New Zealand’s voting age to 16 years, in a judgment handed down on 5 August 2021.

Make It 16 v Attorney-General concerned a lobby group campaigning to lower the minimum voting age in New Zealand from 18 years to 16 years. As part of its campaign, the group brought proceedings in the High Court, contending that the current voting age was inconsistent with the right to freedom from age discrimination under New Zealand’s Bill of Rights.

At first instance, the High Court held that, although the voting age discriminated against 16- and 17-year-olds, the discrimination was “justified in a free and democratic society.”

On appeal, Justice Christine French considered several contentious and opposing views attached to the issue.

“Those opposed to lowering the voting age to 16 years argue that 16-year-olds lack the maturity, world experience and the necessary independence to vote,” French said, adding that changing the voting age was not supported by the general public.

“However, the Attorney-General provided no evidence to suggest 16-year-olds lacked the necessary competence to vote. On the contrary, what evidence there was before the High Court suggested they are competent,” she explained later in the judgment.

French also acknowledged that the current voting age was inconsistent with other legal rights that 16-year-olds are afforded in New Zealand, including the right to be paid the adult minimum wage, apply for a firearms licence, and independently refuse or agree to medical treatment.

However, when all was said and done, French declined to make a declaration of inconsistency.

“It is an intensely and quintessentially political issue involving the democratic process itself and on which there are a range of reasonable views. That being the context, we choose to exercise restraint and decline the application for declarations,” French said.

Make It 16 co-director Cate Tipler said the decision had not stopped the group’s fight to lower the country’s voting age.

“The court agreed that the current voting age is not justified but chose to use their discretion not to issue a declaration of inconsistency. That gives strong support to our belief that preventing 16- and 17-year-olds from voting is unjustified age discrimination,” Tipler told Stuff.

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