There are worse things than lowering the voting age

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In last week’s leaders’ game show styled election debate, the two candidates were asked for their views on lowering the voting age. As expected, National’s conservative Judith Collins ruled out extending the franchise to those aged 16 and over, from the current 18 years. But it was perhaps also predictable that Jacinda Ardern did not support the proposition either. Liam Hehir says she has correctly read general public opinion, “She understands that a cautious, even conservative approach will keep her in the Beehive”. Surveys reveal that most respondents believe 18 is the correct age to be able to vote. So there’s no widespread mandate for change, especially from those who already have the power. This will be disappointing to those, especially the young people, who look to Jacinda as a beacon of political equanimity, a political icon, all compassion, empathy and fairness – ‘the patron saint of progressivism’, and those who, inspired by her leadership, want a stake in the political system, and our combined future too.

Jacinda didn’t reject lowering the voting age outright. She suggested that when we have civics education in schools, it would be more appropriate to lower the vote. It doesn’t explain though, why civics education would be necessary, for young people to vote at age 16, but not at 18. Nor does it explain why legions of older voters can be trusted with a three-yearly vote, regardless of their political knowledge, education or thinking capacity, but young people with a longer stake in the future, can’t. It also doesn’t explain what level of civics education might be necessary, and what level of understanding or proficiency is required. Is it enough to just have civics taught in schools, or should voters have to pass some sort of test? And if it’s about political and civic understanding, then surely the 16 and 17 year olds who are behind the ‘Make it 16’ campaign and its High Court challenge to lower the voting age, should be eligible, and potentially others, older than 18 or even 80 may not. Age in itself is no guarantee of competency, and neither is the mere act of having civics education in schools. If we had a competency test for political participation, then many of our current voters – and politicians and candidates, would possibly fail, and, given the wisdom of the idealistic and the innocent, some children might make better decisions. And wouldn’t being given the opportunity to vote, be the best civics education you can get?

Others in opposition to a lower voting age warn that young people are vulnerable to the influence of their parents or teachers, and may make mistaken decisions. There’s no age limit on vulnerability or susceptibility to influence, or on making mistakes. What’s a “correct” political vote anyway? Is a mistake, when one votes for political actors against your own class interests (say voting for National even though you’re a manual labourer, or voting for Labour even when you’re a business owner?, or because we all have an interest in a healthy environment, is it a ‘mistake’ to ever not vote Green). And really, what’s the worst thing that could happen with a ‘mistaken’ vote, when an election outcome is not even dependent on the simple aggregate of everyone’s votes, where policies are binding, but more contingent on who can get first past the post by forming a Coalition with a minority party, as in the last election?

Unfortunately, the reasons for not giving people under the age of 18 the vote, are reminiscent of the reasons for not giving the vote to women, or ethnic groups, or to people in prison, or who don’t own land. Denying the vote to these groups, and to young people, is the exercise of power arbitrarily denying fundamental rights to citizens – that equal power, theoretically to democratic participation, in both those who govern us, and in decisions about our future.

Another reason given for not conceding the vote to young people, is that around 1/3 of those aged between 18 and 34 don’t vote anyway. A disproportionately high number of young people who already have the ‘privilege’ of voting, don’t bother – especially those who are Maori, Pasifika and Asian. Also, recent migrants, young rural people, the low paid and those with low educational achievements, – the already marginalised, are also less likely to vote. However, given how little an individual vote matters, maybe non-voting is the most rational decision. It can also be an act of political power, an exercise in protest rather than apathy or laziness as sometimes claimed.

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Because voting in itself doesn’t make much difference, and others feel more effective power is expressed through direct action, to which there is no age limit, many of those young people who already can vote, don’t bother, so there’s not much harm in extending the franchise further. There are also other good reasons for giving young people the vote, whether they do or not. Most likely, new voters will discover that no matter who they vote for, systemic power gives voters, and politicians, less power than corporates, and voting is a symbolic act that gives you the impression that it matters, but in fact, the realm of political possibility is more narrow than ever.

We are less political animals than we are economic animals, and our relative power is determined more by our status and situation in the economy, than it is by who we vote to lead us. And even the Prime Minister’s power is circumscribed more by global political economy, historic power structures and world trade agreements, than it is by who votes for him or her. What is worse than lowering the voting age, is perpetuating a myth that voting matters much at all.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I think 99% of these young people that would vote if they had the chance, would vote for climate change as there No1 concern. This would put increasing and unwanted pressure on our mainstream politicians from National and Labour, and they simply won’t to avoid this happening. Useless cowards the whole lot of them.

  2. Yes they might find their policy platforms are unappealing to the young.

    Climate change seems to be something the young care about whilst we are mostly seeing inaction from political parties.

    The other obvious issue is under and unemployment. Another itchy one for politicians who would I suspect rather the problem went away.

  3. “There are worse things than lowering the voting age”
    Yes, there are. Like not having to vote at all.
    “… But it was perhaps also predictable that Jacinda Ardern did not support the proposition either. Liam Hehir says she has correctly read general public opinion,…”
    But the general public are, by and large dumb as fuck. Just look at how natzo hoardings out number labour hoardings by ten to one and ever more worryingly that’s just on our farm lands, our primary industry, the ones who grow and generally produce vital consumable like food and clothing. You know the ones? The ones most at risk of evil natzo manipulations and in many cases are comprised of farmers themselves. Smiling traitors like english, bolger, shipely etc.
    “….We are less political animals than we are economic animals, and our relative power is determined more by our status and situation in the economy, than it is by who we vote to lead us. And even the Prime Minister’s power is circumscribed more by global political economy, historic power structures and world trade agreements, than it is by who votes for him or her. What is worse than lowering the voting age, is perpetuating a myth that voting matters much at all.”
    Good paragraph.
    Which brings me to why not only voting should be considered vitally important in training the public into giving a fuck three yearly but it should signal to the voting public that if the wishes of the people are not observed and respected then they can expect to be running behind fleeing politicians, their lobbyists and sundry other crooks, swindlers, liars, cheats and greedy deviants who currently enjoy and open door policy into our politicians offices.
    It’s a basic law of the jungle. If you’re rude and crooked you should reasonably expect swift and decisive retaliation. In AO/NZ the only voter motivated to vote are those whom SUPPORT rudeness and crooked dealings and self aggrandising fortune making and if others must suffer then all the better.
    The only, and I mean ONLY reason that adern’s gubbimint’s enjoying the sunshine coming out of the polls is because AO/NZ’s waking up from a long and toxic period of move along, nothing to see here, leave it to the experts logical fallacy hypnosis.
    If I were a Natzo or a parasitic Natzo Machiavellian confederate still latched on to Labour from the terrible dawn of neoliberalism I’d be very worried right now.
    I have a hopeful feeling that once Labour gets another three years and hopefully unfettered by irrelevant hangers on parties you’ll see fur fly and much sprinting to the nearest available toilet, shrub, tree, rock and hedge row.
    You’ll see many a limousine pulled over to the roadside, the back door swinging open as the well groomed wee heads of the riche are seen bobbing about as they’re heard wailing and scouring in panic from the long grasses.
    Great Post @ CR.

  4. Why not make it 12 or 9 or 3 even? If its just an arbitrary number, why does it matter? A low turnout is guaranteed thats for sure.

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