Thursday, June 21, 2007



Lowering the voting age

Following the success of her Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act, Sue Bradford has another project: lowering the voting age to 16. This is already producing the expected sneers from Herald readers (all over 16, from the look of it), but I think its an excellent idea. To understand why, we need to delve into the basis of democracy.

Firstly, though, we need to deal with an obvious canard. Contrary to the claims of conservatives who talk grandly of "the public interest" (which somehow always coincides with the interests of the rich), democracy is not about making good decisions. What constitutes a "good" decision depends very much on what your goals and interests are, and its clear that there's no broad agreement on that. Instead, it is a system for making our decisions - decisions we as a society can own. It is not a system for aggregating information and reaching a rational decision about what we should do - it is a system for moderating conflicting interests without the need for a messy civil war.

The moral basis of this system rests on two assumptions: firstly, that people have interests, and secondly, that no-one's interests count for more than anybody else's. The first is simply a recognition of fact. The second is a statement of fundamental moral equality, and can be taken as axiomatic or justified on the basis of consistency (if I want my interests to count, then I must agree that everyone else's do as well). Note that there's nothing in here about rationality, or about age - if you have interests, you should count.

In practice, all states have adopted arbitrary age limits on the franchise. However, the moral egalitarian basis of democracy has produced an unrelenting downward pressure on those limits, which has seen them fall from a generally accepted age of 21 to the now generally accepted standard of 18. And the pressure is still there. As education systems improve, and the young become more independent, then the age should be lowered.

(I should add at this stage that the inability of modern democratic systems to properly represent the interests of children and young people is a well-known flaw. Because they cannot vote, they have no effective voice, and it is particularly easy for their elders to pursue policies which unfairly impose costs on them. Running deficits, using finite resources, and allowing pollution are three general examples. More specifically, there's the American policy of conscription during the Vietnam War (which targetted people who could not then vote), and New Zealand's own student loan scheme, which imposed costs on future tertiary students so that their parents could enjoy lower taxes. A lower voting age will make these sorts of abuses more difficult).

New Zealand has traditionally taken an expansive attitude towards the franchise. We were one of the earliest countries to abolish property qualifications for voting, and the first country in the world to have full universal suffrage. We extend full voting rights to residents, on the basis that they too have a stake in our society. And I think the time has come to extend it to young people as well. 16 year olds have interests, and those interests should be counted.

35 comments:

I think that the age of consent, the drinking age, the age of voting, the age of joining military, the age of driving, and the age of marriage should all be the same. They should all be 18.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/21/2007 01:56:00 PM

How about 65?
- lower population as most of those having sex would be infertile
- entirely sober workforce improving productivity
- decisions made by mature adults
- permanent peace due to army being to doddery to fight
- no boy racers
- less divorce because more people would die first

Posted by Rich : 6/21/2007 02:22:00 PM

Following the success of her Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act, Sue Bradford has another project: lowering the voting age to 16.

I guess it's too much to ask for Sue and her party to invest their precious time on environmental legislation . . .

Posted by Danyl : 6/21/2007 02:23:00 PM

It is a good idea, but the 85% unpopularity Bradford's version of the S59 repeal (pre Clark/Key compromise) is going to be tainting anything she proposes for a while to come. Dead in water.

Posted by unaha-closp : 6/21/2007 02:28:00 PM

Danyl: As should be clear from their statement of principles, the Green party is about more than just the environment.

It's also worth pointing out that they do have serious environmental legislation before the House and in the ballot at the moment, so you can hardly claim they're ignoring that area.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/21/2007 02:37:00 PM

The Herald is just talkback noise these days. Some saner comments on Stuff:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/4103323a4621.html

Two prevailing arguments emerge there: 1) it's worth considering 2) who cares, I just hate Sue Bradford.

But Rodney Hide has backed her up.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/21/2007 03:11:00 PM

I've noticed the Greens tend to forget everything else on their statement of principles when they're campaigning. They sell themselves on their environmental platform not their policies on social justice ect.

Looking through the press releases put out by Bradford (and Kieth Locke is guilty of this as well) it's very hard to find a single statement about the environment. This isn't really good enough coming from two of the highest ranking MP's of a party that campaigns almost exclusively on environmental issues.

Posted by Danyl : 6/21/2007 03:12:00 PM

Danyl: that's because they are (respectively) their spokespeople for social development (for want of a better word), and foreign affairs. Both have a long list of other portfolio responsibilities (Sue is the Green party spokesperson for racing - who knew?), but neither has any environmental responsibility.

Complaining then that neither issues press releases about the environment is like complaining that e.g. David Parker never talks about health or education, or that Tony Ryall never talks about climate change. It's not their job...

But hey, why let little things like the division of labour in political parties get in the way of petty bitching and an attempt to pigeonhole? Sheesh...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/21/2007 03:37:00 PM

The (obvious) difference is that David Parker and Tony Ryall are members of large parties that campaign on multiple platforms (health, education, finance ect). The Greens are a small party that campaigns almost exclusively on environmental issues. A more appropriate comparison would be if half of the Maori Party MP's were promoting legislation and churning out press releases utterly unrelated to Maori concerns.

I can accept that Locke and Bradford have portfolio responsibilities, but many of those portfolios are directly related to the environment (rural affairs and economic development, in Bradfords case) and she can evidently still go for years representing the Greens on those issues without ever issuing a press release about the environment.

Posted by Danyl : 6/21/2007 03:52:00 PM

An exercise that may be interesting, that I have no idea how to go about doing.

Danyl and I/S are arguing over press release and the greens.

You could do an analysis comparing in total, how many press releases the Greens as a party have done over the years, and see how many are on environmental matters and how many are on other maters. Also see if the number of environmental releases increases at election time

Posted by Anonymous : 6/21/2007 04:03:00 PM

Danyl: The Greens are a small party that campaigns almost exclusively on environmental issues.

As I've said above, you are simply mistaken on this. The Greens campaign on generally left wing and liberal social causes as well, because they see that as part of their vision of a sustainable and fair society. And IMHO its entirely appropriate that they have people whose job it is to talk about those issues. Whether they also talk about the environment depends purely on the allocation of spokesperson roles within the party - and not on your rather peculiar peconceptions of it.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/21/2007 04:06:00 PM

"Looking through the press releases put out by Bradford (and Kieth Locke is guilty of this as well) it's very hard to find a single statement about the environment."

Not surprising though. Bradford and Locke are in the Green Party because it has more traction with voters than other left parties, not because either of them gives a rat's ass about the environment. The fact that these two rank above Tanczos makes the party look decidedly ill-named these days.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 6/21/2007 04:17:00 PM

"Not surprising though. Bradford and Locke are in the Green Party because it has more traction with voters than other left parties..."

Bradford and Locke are in the Green party because the NDU is donating more dollars to the Party than the "green" movement combined.

"The fact that these two rank above Tanczos..."

...is due to those paying the fiddler calling the tune. Good old fashioned dollar politics.

Posted by unaha-closp : 6/21/2007 04:36:00 PM

I would remind all that Parliamentary support for a move of this nature would be required from *both* National and Labour. The provision which sets the voting age at 18 is entrenched.

Or will Bradford's bill include provision for a referendum?

Posted by Graeme : 6/21/2007 05:15:00 PM

I've been in favour of this since the 1996 election, when I was sixteen, and to my credit my views haven't changed as I've got older. There isn't much of a grounds to argue against this policy (as opposed to grounds to argue against Ms. Bradford) except that sixteen year olds do stupid things, and while it's true, they don't do anything stupid that twenty, thirty, forty and fifty year olds don't do, or sixty year olds don't wish they could do.

Graeme, you're incorrect about the majority being required. Entrenching clauses can be overturned with a simple majority, which is then of course sufficient to overturn the previous act sans entrenching clause. Of course, removing an entrenching clause can be seen as quite arrogant, and I'm not aware of how common it is in practice (not to mention it will give the Nats and ACT grounds to attack the government on their usual procedural, as opposed to substantial, lines), but from a strictly legal point of view, a majority is good enough.

Of course it'll probably go to a god-damn conscience vote.

Posted by Daedalus_x : 6/21/2007 05:31:00 PM

It is a good idea, but the 85% unpopularity Bradford's version of the S59 repeal (pre Clark/Key compromise) is going to be tainting anything she proposes for a while to come. Dead in water.

lol at unaha-closp, You might want to establish some factual basis for the outlandish claim of 80% support before you start adding another 5%

Posted by Anonymous : 6/21/2007 06:18:00 PM

moving the age to 16 would be a victory for the left.

But I think you can probably get a majority to consider it to be a good thing.

BTW why no comment on changing the tax laws surrounding rental properties?

Posted by Anonymous : 6/21/2007 06:50:00 PM

You might want to establish some factual basis for the outlandish claim of 80% support before you start adding another 5%

Poor naive soul, proof can be seen in the precipitous fall in Labours polling coincidental with the passage of this bill.

Posted by unaha-closp : 6/21/2007 07:11:00 PM

Daedalus_x - I think you're forgetting something - You'd need to amend the entrenching provision by a separate law first - Bradford would need to have two bills in the ballot (she can only have one) and they'd both need to be drawn before that could happen.

Posted by Graeme : 6/21/2007 10:03:00 PM

Graeme, as far as I know there is no need for a separate bill to remove the entrenching clause, just as there is no need for a separate act to entrench another act. It could easily be written into the existing bill. In fact, presuming Bradford's staff have done their job properly, it already will be. Unless of course she feels that the bill needs more than a simple majority to be legitimate, which would be setting a high bar for herself.

Out of curiosity, which act does set the age limit for voting? I presume it's one of the Electoral Acts?

Posted by Daedalus_x : 6/21/2007 10:17:00 PM

Graeme: I didn't notice that, and you're right. The bill amends the definition of "adult" in s3(1) of the Electoral Act, which is protected by the Entrnchment clause. It would therefore need to pass by 75% or be approved by a referendum.

Fortunately, the bill hasn't even been drawn, so there's plenty of time to rewrite it to provide for a referendum on the issue.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/22/2007 12:35:00 AM

What's the voter turnout amongst 18-20 year olds and how does this compare to the rest of the population? This should tell us something about the merits of lowering the voting age.

As for the civics lessons, how much will it really lift voter turnout? How does voter turn out in NZ with no civics lessons compare to voter turnout in the US with civics lessons?

Posted by Oliver : 6/22/2007 02:27:00 AM

And IMHO its entirely appropriate that they have people whose job it is to talk about those issues. Whether they also talk about the environment depends purely on the allocation of spokesperson roles within the party - and not on your rather peculiar peconceptions of it.

I guess I'm just a starry eyed nutter for expecting Green politicians to give a shit about the environment. Presumably you're comfortable with the Greens current direction because you're sympathetic to their far left politics - I'm far more concerned about the environment than I am about Bradfords crusade for social justice and I find it frustrating that the Greens are devoting much more of their energy into the latter at the expense of the former.

What's the voter turnout amongst 18-20 year olds and how does this compare to the rest of the population? This should tell us something about the merits of lowering the voting age.

I don't think there are any solid statistics for New Zealand but in the UK 18-24 year olds have a turnout of around 38%.

The Greens voter base is very young, so I expect they think this is going to increase their voting pool - I think they might be wrong. Most 18 year old voters are probably going to be first year Uni students and will be voting on their newly formed political opinions. If a 16 year old is even aware of an election I suspect they're more likely to vote for whoever their parents vote for. I think this is unlikely to favour the Greens.

Posted by Danyl : 6/22/2007 07:24:00 AM

I/S - do you support lowering the age of adult criminal responsibility to 16 also (currently 17)?

Posted by Graeme : 6/22/2007 08:28:00 AM

Oliver: How does voter turn out in NZ with no civics lessons compare to voter turnout in the US with civics lessons?

I don't think its just a matter of civics education. Rather, I think low turnout in the US can be pinned fairly and squarely on the fact that the voters know that the system is a fraud and that their vote doesn't actually matter.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/22/2007 08:38:00 AM

Danyl: Presumably you're comfortable with the Greens current direction because you're sympathetic to their far left politics

I'm comfortable with the party being broader than a single issue, yes. Unlike you, I don't seek to pigeonhole them so as to undermine the legitimacy of their opinions.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/22/2007 08:40:00 AM

Graeme: I don't - but if the pedophobes in NZ First manage to ram it through, then it would make the case for lowering the voting age even stronger.

Likewise, ACT supporters may wish to consider the increasing number of young people who work (hell, our service economy depends on youth labour), and remember the slogan "no taxation without representation". I believe it was popular once.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/22/2007 08:42:00 AM

I had heard (not sure from where) that Rodney had come out in support.

Personally, I also support it.

As far as I know, NZF are not seeking to lower the age of adult criminal responsibility, but to lower the age of youth criminal responsibility (that is, they'd like the age at which the youth court can do something lowered from 14 to 12 - not the age at which the district court attains jurisdiction).

Posted by Graeme : 6/22/2007 08:54:00 AM

"Unlike you, I don't seek to pigeonhole them so as to undermine the legitimacy of their opinions." Are you taking the mickey? Have you ever re-read what you write about the right?

Posted by Anonymous : 6/22/2007 09:06:00 AM

Latest anon:

WRT. the right, I think the point is that National is a broad party that on occasion comes across as a single issue (tax cuts) party.

Posted by dc_red : 6/22/2007 12:29:00 PM

"...remember the slogan "no taxation without representation"."

And the equally-relevant flipside: no representation without taxation? Would certainly reduce the franchise...

Posted by Psycho Milt : 6/22/2007 01:07:00 PM

Would certainly reduce the franchise...

...because all those pricks using an investment property as a tax write-off wouldn't be voting for starters.

Posted by unaha-closp : 6/22/2007 03:11:00 PM

Let children be children and this Bradford women is clearly mad in the head .

Posted by dad4justice : 6/22/2007 10:02:00 PM

I disagree with Bradford on the voting age.

1.) Teenagers are socially disconnecting with society, and are thus less likely to vote.
2.) Those who do not vote for a couple of elections in a row are highly unlikely to ever vote again.

Hence, reducing the voting age is likely to lead to a long term drop in voter turnout (just as lowering it to 18 did).

Posted by G7 : 6/26/2007 12:10:00 PM

Why can't people read the entire news article before posting?
G7: 1.) Teenagers are socially disconnecting with society, and are thus less likely to vote.
2.) Those who do not vote for a couple of elections in a row are highly unlikely to ever vote again.

The second portion of the bill addresses this issue quite nicely. TEACH PEOPLE ABOUT POLITICS (< sarcasm>oh gosh, what a novel idea < /sarcasm>)
The idea that someone can have a family, a job, a house (unlikely, admittedly, but theoretically possible), be in the military and not vote to get representation is ridiculous.
To those who advocate raising the age again, I would challenge the idea that raising it to anything under 23 (or so) would have the slightest difference, and that 25 would be the more accurate number. Why? Quite simply, the pre-frontal cortex (used for decision making) hasn't fully developed until then. This doesn't mean that 16 year olds are unable to make decisions, but merely that you have two options, the first is raising it to a level where it will make a difference (25) or lower it so you get more equality with regulations and a better representation in government, representative of ALL social groups.

Posted by Mike : 6/27/2007 06:53:00 PM