• Judy McGregor is a professor at AUT, a former Human Rights Commissioner and a former newspaper editor.
How different would the 2017 election campaign be if 16 and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote and more of those aged 18-29 years used their vote?
Older people have become the over-mighty of election decision-making. More than 50 per cent of the 2014 election vote came from those 50 years and over. Party policies on fundamental economic issues such as rebalancing financial distribution to reduce inequalities, increasing the age of entitlement to superannuation, and who to tax and by how much, are decided with a fixed stare at the silvering of voter appeal.
A drum roll of age and ageism are also background noises in this campaign. First, there was debate about whether Metiria Turei could be excused for a joke party vote from the wrong address on the grounds of youthful indiscretion. Then there was buzz about whether Jacinda Ardern could be a credible PM at 37. Then a tizz about whether Winston Peters would recover his kingmaker swagger after his super overpayment.
Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft this year called for a national conversation about whether we should enfranchise 16 to 17-year-olds. Supporters of Vote at 16 state that if an individual has to wear the consequences of an election result, he or she should be entitled to vote. It is illogical that 16-year-olds can marry, apply for an adult passport and a firearms licence, pay tax, but not vote.
Giving them the vote would tilt towards intergenerational fairness at a time when New Zealand is ageing dramatically, the world is undergoing dramatic change, and political alienation may be more of a threat to democracy than the shady use of computational propaganda to prey on voter preference. In 2014 the Scottish referendum showed that when 16 and 17-year-olds were enfranchised to vote, the young could be dramatically re-engaged with political processes.
The low current vote of 18-24 years olds (63 per cent of those eligible) and of 25-29 year olds (62 per cent) is not an argument against voting at 16. Many young non-voters are very political in community projects and online campaigns they feel are relevant and that they have some control over. They are unenthusiastic about establishment politics with its stuffy bureaucracy and patterns of denigration. This antipathy is matched by apathy. But given that political education is under-baked in many secondary schools that's no surprise. A lowered voting age could catalyse the school curriculum to provide a quick transition from learning to doing.
Bill English told Jacinda Ardern in the first leaders' debate that "people can't go shopping with your values". But young people I speak to see a lack of values as the black hole of organised politics.
In her valedictory address just before the House rose, Labour's Annette King urged greater diversity of representation. "All political parties need to commit to making this place truly a House of Representatives," she said. She was making the point about women's representation. It also applies to age and young people. Voting at 16 is not a silver bullet to address democratic deficits, but it could moderate entitlement by age. Currently 16-17-year-olds are the "out" group in politics. We should make them an "in" group for the next general election.