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Lowered voting age 'a gateway'

Lowered voting age 'a gateway'
Methven Community Board member Megan Fitzgerald is the youngest elected member in the district, and believes the debate around lowering the voting age is a gateway to improving education around civics.

Mid Canterbury’s youngest elected member says lowering the voting age is a gateway to improving overall civics education.
A sweeping review into the country’s electoral system has recommended the voting age be lowered to 16, among a raft of other changes.
For the Ashburton District’s youngest elected member, 27-year-old Methven Community Board member Megan Fitzgerald, the conversation around lowering the voting age is a gateway to improving education in schools “around voting and how import the electoral system is for making decisions”.
“If you raise awareness at school they go home and have conversations with their parents about it.
“So you’re not just getting the kids talking about voting and the political system, but everyone.”
The interim report from the Independent Electoral Review Panel will undergo a second round of public consultation until July 17 before it hands the final copy to the government at the end of November.
If lowering the voting age to 16 and some of the recommendations were to proceed, they would require either a 75% majority in Parliament or a referendum.
With National opposing lowering the voting age, it appears unlikely at a central government level. But lowering the age for local elections only requires a parliamentary majority.
Opinion is divided among the Ashburton District Councillors on whether that should happen.
A common theme was that any lowering of the age required improved education around civics in the curriculum, something some said was needed even if the age isn’t lowered.
The amount of civics education in schools has already been increased as part of social sciences curriculum overhaul.
Councillor Richard Wilson said while the curriculum could do better, “it’s up to parents more the schools”.
“That’s where true values are installed, not in schools but at home.”
Wilson also said with an ageing population, lowering the age will help to provide some balance.
For those keen on lowering the age, increasing engagement was a key factor.
Lowering the age “may not result in a huge increase in voter turnout but if we can engage more youth it will be great”, councillor Russell Ellis said.
Just 36% of eligible New Zealanders cast their vote in the local body elections clast year, compared with 42% in 2019.
That continued a trend of decline since the nationwide restructuring of local government in 1989, when turnout was at 57%.
In the general elections numbers have been improving, rising to 82.2% in 2020 from a record low (since 1946) of 74.2% in 2011.

What they said:

Neil Brown:
“I can’t see a problem with it if people engage properly. You can do plenty of other things when you are 16 so why not vote.”

Liz McMillan
“If it gets people engaging in politics I think it’s great, but not every 16-year-old, like not every 40-year-old, is going to have an interest in voting.”

Phill Hooper
“Anything that increases voter turnout is a good thing, but I can remember where my head was at when I was 16.”

Carolyn Cameron
“I wouldn’t support lowering the age to 16 currently. Once civics is introduced to the curriculum I might reconsider that position.”

Lynette Lovett
“I don’t agree with it. I think 18 is the right age.”

Richard Wilson
“I’m in favour of it.”

Russell Ellis
“Anything to get more engagement is a great thing”

Tony Todd
“I’m open-minded on it.”

Rob Mackle and Leen Braam could not be reached for comment.

  • By Jonathan Leask