The voting age of 18 is discriminatory to younger people, the New Zealand Supreme Court has ruled.
The court ruling on Monday marked the conclusion of a two-year case brought by a group of young campaigners to lower the voting age to 16, arguing that younger people should be able to vote on issues such as the climate crisis, which will disproportionately affect them and their futures.
The ruling does not automatically guarantee the right to vote will be extended – that can be done only by parliament – but it does mean that parliament is now breaching the fundamental human rights of younger voters, and forces legislators to consider a change.
“This is history,” said the Make It 16 campaign’s co-director, Caeden Tipler. “The government and parliament cannot ignore such a clear legal and moral message. They must let us vote.”
The campaign launched shortly after school strikes for climate began mobilising tens of thousands of teenagers across the country, and the climate crisis has loomed large in the background.
“Three years ago, we saw school strikes for climate … and there was a sort of global shift towards: how do we give young people more of a say and more of a way to make change on a large scale? Voting was one of those ideas,” said Sanat Singh, Make it 16’s co-founder.
While climate action had been a motivating force, Singh said the same logic – that young people should have a say in issues affecting them – applied to all politics, from public transport funding to mental health.
“I was 16 in 2020, which was probably one of the most consequential elections in our lifetime – and issues that mattered to me about mental health, climate change and the state of our democracy were things that I was not able to have a say in,” Singh said.