Thursday, April 30, 2015

For a lower voting age for the flag referendum

The Justice and Electoral Committee is currently hearing submissions on the New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill, which might one day give us a new flag. And one of the submitters has suggested allowing children to vote in it:

New Zealand could be recognised as the first country in the world to give children the vote, starting with the flag referendum.

The Justice and Electoral select committee heard from submitters on Thursday about the referendum and their views on whether a new flag is needed.

Michael Gibson told MPs that all school-age children should be given the vote and be involved in the decision-making process.


He said giving children aged 5-and-over a vote on the flag referendum would be "giving a vote to those who will be living the longest with the consequences".

He's got a point: its their flag too; shouldn't they (or at least as many of them as we can possibly accomodate) have a say in it?

I've long advocated for a lower voting age on democratic grounds. While five may be taking it a bit far at present, the flag referenda would provide a perfect testbed for a lower voting age. And this would have useful spinoffs as well - after all, someone who enrols at 16 for the referendum will still be enrolled when they're 18 for the next general election. Since our declining turnout is in part a story of youth non-enrolment leading to a pattern of non-voting, it may also help reverse that trend.

New Zealand once led the world on democracy. We're not world-leaders anymore - Brazil, Argentina and Austria have beaten us to lowering the voting age - but the least we can do is be fast followers. This is an opportunity to give young people the say they deserve. And we should take it.