WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s highest court ruled on Monday that the country’s current voting age of 18 was discriminatory, forcing parliament to debate whether it should be lowered.
The case, which has been pending in court since 2020, was bought by advocacy group Make It 16, which wants to lower the age to include 16 and 17-year-olds.
The Supreme Court has found that the current voting age of 18 conflicts with the country’s Bill of Rights, which gives people the right to be free from age discrimination when they turn 16.
The decision triggers a process in which the issue is brought to parliament for discussion and review by a select parliamentary committee. But it does not force Parliament to change the voting age.
“This is history,” said Make It 16 co-director Caeden Tipler, adding: “Government and parliament cannot ignore this clear legal and moral message. They must let us vote.”
On its website, the group says there is not enough justification for preventing 16-year-olds from voting when they can drive, work full-time and pay taxes.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government would draft a law to lower the age to 16, which could then be put to a vote in parliament.
“I personally support lowering the voting age, but it’s not just a matter for me or even the government, any change in an electoral law like that requires 75% of Parliament’s support,” she said.
Political parties have divergent views on this matter. The Greens want immediate action to lower the voting age to 16, but the largest opposition party, the National Party, does not support the shift.
“Obviously, we have to draw a line somewhere,” said National Party leader Christopher Loxon. “We’re comfortable with the line being 18. A lot of different countries have different places where the line is drawn and from our point of view, 18 is fine.”
Reporting by Lucy Kramer. Editing by Bradley Perrett and Shri Navaratnam
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