Should the voting age be 16?

Philip Greatrex writes in the NZ Herald:

One of the biggest problems with age-based laws is that they assume the existence of an invisible line that, when crossed, makes that individual smarter, more mature, more capable and more respectable as a person.

Yep hey are a problem. But it is not an assumption that (for example) at 17 years 364 days you can not be trusted to purchase alcohol, and the next day you can. It is just the simple reality that an age restriction is a poor proxy for competence – but is simple to understand and administer.

If you don’t want age based laws, then let us have competency testing. You could argue that anyone should be able to apply for a driver’s license if they can pass the theory and practical tests.

If you don’t want an age restriction for voting, then bring in a competency test.

Teenagers, upon turning 18, do not suddenly gain more political knowledge or understanding; chances are they have about the same amount they had when they were 16, given most 18-year-olds haven’t yet left school.

But with a of 18, hundreds of thousands of people are being deprived of having their say in the way their country is run.

And same for a voting age of 16 or 15 or 14. All ages can be arbitrary. The argument Philip needs to make is why 16 is a more justifiable arbitrary age than 18.

For my 2c I think 18 has more arguments in favour of it, even putting aside the consistency issue. I think 18 is the age at which most people finish up full-time secondary study.  I don’t think that many people under 18 follow or care about politics. The fact that 18 to 25 year olds have an appallingly low voting turnout doesn’t suggest that those even younger are wanting to vote. Sure of course some want to – I would have liked to have voted at eight. But 16 is just as arbitrary as 18. Why at 16 are you mature enough but not 15?

In the end I believe in consistency with our age laws. If you want the age of voting to be 16 – fine. But then that should be the age of adulthood for all your rights – to marry without consent, to join the Army, to sign contracts, to be tried as an adult.

What I’d like to happen in New Zealand is for all our age laws to be aligned. For 16 to be the age at which people get partials rights (to drive, to leave school, to marry with consent) and 18 they get their full rights (voting etc). At the moment our ages are all over the place:

  • 10 – can be charged with a murder or manslaughter
  • 12 – can be charged with crime with a maximum penalty of 10 years or more
  • 14 – can be charged with all crimes
  • 16 – can get a drivers licence, leave home, refuse medical treatment, get a tattoo, leave school, get a gun licence, consent to sex,
  • 17 – treated as an adult for crimes, can join armed forces
  • 18 – now an adult without guardians, get married, make a will, buy alcohol, tobacco, get a bank account, gamble,
  • 20 – can find out your birth parents
  • 25 – can adopt

Most rights are 16 or 18. I can’t support a law that says at 16 you can vote but not get a credit card.  If you want a voting age of 16, then make the case for all the adults rights to occur at 16.

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