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 on Monday.
Her announcement came hours after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that not allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote was age-discriminatory.
But while Ardern said she personally supports lowering the age, such a change would require a 75% majority of lawmakers to agree. And even supporters admit they don’t currently have numbers.
Several countries are debating whether to lower the voting age. Some countries that allow people to vote at the age of 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 was a big day,” he said. “This is history not only for our campaign, but also for the country.”
Singh, 18, says existential issues like climate change — as well as issues like tackling the pandemic and the state of democracy — will affect young people the most.
“That’s why I think it’s really important to work together to make sure we can have a stronger future,” he said.
Ardern, the leader of the Liberal Labor Party, said all lawmakers should have a say on the issue.
“I personally support lowering the voting age but it’s not a simple matter for me or even the government,” Ardern said. “Any change in electoral law of this nature requires 75% of MPs’ support.”
Ardern said the vote is likely to take place in the coming months but any changes will not take effect until after next year’s general election.
The Liberal Green Party said it supported a change.
“Young people deserve a voice in decisions that affect them, both now and in the future,” said Golriz Ghahraman, the party’s electoral reform spokesman.
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. “In the end, you have to draw a boundary somewhere and we’re comfortable with a boundary of 18.”
In the Supreme Court, four justices supported the lobbying group’s appeal with a fifth judge disagreeing with some aspects of the decision.
In New Zealand, protection against age discrimination begins at the age of 16, and the judges ruled that the attorney general failed to indicate why 18 was chosen as the voting age instead. for 16 years old.
The nature of the court ruling forced New Zealand lawmakers to at least debate the issue, but it did not force them to vote or make changes.
Singh said he hopes that while his group may not yet get the 75 percent support it needs in Parliament, it will get there within the next few years. He said a possible first step would be to reduce the voting age to 16 for local council elections, as that change requires only a majority of ordinary lawmakers.
New Zealand’s voting age was previously lowered from 21 to 20 in 1969, and then to 18 in 1974.