Wairarapa leaders weigh in on lowering voting age

4:53 pm on 2 November 2022
No caption

Whether or not to lower the voting age to 16 is a hot topic. File image. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

As local councils digest the draft report from the Future for Local Government Review panel, Wairarapa leaders lend a voice to some of the biggest recommended changes.

Among those was lowering the voting age to 16 and lengthening terms to four years instead of three.

In its draft report, the panel said lowering the voting age was "a significant point" raised in engagement with stakeholders.

It was also a change that may already be in train, with the government currently undertaking a sweeping review of many aspects of the country's electoral law prior to the 2026 General Election.

The electoral review would consider changes to the voting age and the length of parliament's three-year terms, the second of which was also a recommendation in the draft report for the Future for Local Government Review for council terms.

Kieran McAnulty

Associate Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Following the release of the draft local government report last week, Associate Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty said it was timely to consider the role and scope of local government "and consider what changes could be made to make it fit-for-purpose for the next 30+ years".

He did not comment on the individual recommendations of the expert panel but had previously thrown his support behind lowering the voting age to 16.

"Wairarapa is blessed with incredibly engaged, intelligent, and independently minded 16 and 17-year-olds," he said last year when the government's electoral law review was announced.

"Many of the issues we face as a country will impact the younger generations disproportionately.

"They should have a say in the policy that impacts on their future.

"If they're old enough to earn, pay tax, and serve in the army, then I think they're entitled to have a say."

Masterton District Councillor Gary Caffell

Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell said lowering the age could make young people more involved in local body politics. Photo: Wairarapa Times Age via LDR

Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell was supportive of lowering the voting age to 16.

"It could help make more young people become involved in local body politics, and people of that age are often already immersed in such issues as climate change, housing and education."

Caffell's predecessor Lyn Patterson also supported the idea and said it would "give younger youth the opportunity to participate in our democracy".

In the 2019 local body elections, Masterton resident Carys Gibbs made history by being one of the youngest people to stand for council.

She submitted her candidate forms on her 18th birthday and received 1937 votes, but it was not enough to secure a place on council.

In South Wairarapa, Mayor Martin Connelly said lowering the voting age to 16 had benefits but did not believe it would immediately increase the proportion of voter turnout among eligible voters.

"I think there are other benefits, though.

"If we get 16-year-olds onto the electoral roll now, they may be more likely to develop a voting habit and carry that through to later years."

His predecessor Alex Beijen believed 18 was a reasonable age to engage in elections.

South Wairarapa mayor Alex Beijen.

Alex Beijen. Photo: LDR

Carterton Mayor Ron Mark said the draft report from the Future for Local Government Review "missed the mark in addressing the key issues which are negatively impacting all councils across the country, particularly the funding model, and the confusion between territorial authorities and regional councils".

"While encouraging our youth and rangatahi to participate in local democracy is important, we first need to focus on increasing engagement with our current voters, as some of our major centres saw voting returns as low as 20 per cent."

Former Carterton mayor Ron Mark, now Defence Minister.


His predecessor Greg Lang supported lowering the voting age, as did former Deputy Mayor Rebecca Vergunst, who was on Local Government NZ's Young Elected Members Committee.

But it needed to go hand-in-hand with civics education, they said.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs