Members of Make It 16

Why you should support the campaign to lower the voting age

A transcript of the presentation by Anika Green, Caitlin Taylor and Sanat Singh from the Make It 16 campaign given at the Trust Democracy meeting of 1 December 2022.
Watch a video of the presentation by Make It 16.
Download the presentation slides.
Read the Make It 16 ‘Cheat Sheet’, with all the best arguments when having open discussions about lowering the voting age. [Opens in a new tab]
Read details about the meeting.
Visit to find out more about the campaign.
Anika Green (she/her/ia): 

So, kia ora koutou katoa. Thank you so much, John, for that introduction. It’s such a privilege to be here to speak with you. 

We thought we’d first start just off with a bit of an outline about who we are. If you don’t already, sort of, aren’t familiar with us beforehand, and then we’re gonna do a bit of an individual ‘who we are and why we got involved’. 

So Make It 16 is this youth-led non-partisan campaign. So we are, there are a lot of young people involved in our campaign. There is very few people of old age, so that’s a really awesome aspect to our campaign. And we are aiming to uplift and strengthen youth voice by extending the voting age to 16.

And we’ve now become a group that’s nationwide. So we have a really large spread across the country which we’ll talk about later.

But we have people from all over the country – from Northland to Christchurch to Auckland to Wellington – who are super passionate about this idea of lowering the voting age to 16. 

I’ll let Caitlin start.

Caitlin Taylor (she/her): 

Sweet. So, I’ll just introduce myself. Kia ora. My name is Caitlin, my pronouns are she/her and I am 20. I joined the Make It 16 campaign when I was 17, going on 18. And the key reason why or how I stumbled upon Make It 16 was I found out my birthday fell two days short of the election day in 2020. 

And we were talking about political issues in school. I was really excited. There were two big referendums, and I was really excited to finally vote and have my say on what type of government would be running the country, because to me, that’s quite important.

And then I found out my birthday fell two days short of the election day, and I was very upset about that. And I talked to everyone about that, and someone mentioned to Make It 16, and ever since then, I have been part of the campaign. 

I help run the social media accounts mainly. I also do a whole bunch of other communications things like emails, writing copy, occasionally helping out with PRs, and a whole bunch of bits and bobs to do with the marketing of the campaign, basically.

That’s a bit about me. I’ll pass it over to Sanat to introduced himself.

Sanat Singh (he/him): 

Kia ora everyone. Ko Sanat toku ingoa. It’s really nice to be here to present to you all tonight. It’s quite privileged actually. 

For me, I think the reason I joined Making It 16 … there are quite a few reasons, but I’ve been a part of the youth space doing community work since 2019, so since I was 15 years old, and now I’m an 18-year-old first year student at the University of Auckland. 

So, throughout that time, you know, we faced the pandemic, the climate crisis is worsening, the mental health systems that we have in place for young people aren’t really working, more and more, globally, we can see a huge backslide in democracy and, you know, just general trust in institutions declining.

So for me, it’s very much … Make It 16 was a pathway to at least try to create a better future for the way democracies work here in Aotearoa and then throughout the world. 

And also a way to sort of materialise a lot of the solutions that I and the community groups I work with in the youth space have been trying to do for a very long time. So I’m very passionate about this. 

And I joined probably late last year during lockdown, and it’s been a pretty wild ride since then. I’m a co-director, but I do bits and bobs here and there throughout the campaign.

The thing I’m really interested in, or the thing that I’ve been working on the most, is sort of creating connections and networks across the country to run a really effective, organised campaign on the grassroots level and in different regions. 

And we’ve had quite a few things happen this year. So we haven’t had a chance to fully mobilise that but the General Election is coming up next year – there’s a lot of other stuff coming up next year – so it’s going to be a really exciting time for the campaign. 

I’ll pass off to Anika.

Anika Green (she/her/ia): 

Kia ora. Ko Anika toku ingoa. My name is Anika Green, and I’ve lived in Te Whanganui-a-Tara all my life. I’ve always been super passionate about democracy and politics, and always been a really strong social justice advocate.

Similar to Sanat, I’ve kind of worked in different community spaces growing up. I grew up in a community that was all about, sort of, helping people on the street and, sort of, solving homelessness – well, not solving homelessness, but just supporting our homeless population. 

And again, similarly to Sanat, I feel like there are all these really pressing issues that young people have agitated successive governments about, and we haven’t had that change that people have been driving for.

And because I’m so passionate about fixing all of these issues that face us today, I was really really keen to join Make It 16, again, as an avenue to make up a participatory democracy – truly participatory – and to empower our youth, who politicians often make a song and dance about, about youth voice and how important it is, and I feel as though this would, you know, make the most direct influence on these decisions that are going to shape our country and our future. 

So, I’m part of the volunteer, kind of, outreach and support, leadership but kind of help [with] bits and places [sic, pieces?] like, you know, Caitlin and Sanat, with comms and things. 

I also joined on the exact same meeting as Sanat during lockdown last year. It’s actually pretty crazy: I was just thinking about it the other day. That means Sanat actually joined on the same outreach call. 

Move on to the next slide.

We believe in terms of why the voting age should be lowered to sixteen that issues that are disproportionately affecting our rangatahi across Aotearoa need these young people at the decision-making table to have that most direct influence on these decisions that will fundamentally shape our future.

And we believe now, more than ever, that rangatahi have proven themselves in so many different facets of our society to care enough about democracy and politics, in order to show up in it. 

We’ve seen recently with our Youth Parliament event that happens tri annually, how many people with completely differing political views are really willing to engage with our political system, and wanting to participate in it. So much so that they signed up to be Youth Parliamentarians but also so many other examples, like our youth councils across our country, and all of our political spaces like School Strike 4 Climate. And we believe that young people are able to make decisions that affect the course of their lives, but are not given the agency to change the future in our current state and laws.

Next slide, please.

So in terms of our story, Make It 16 came to fruition as a group through the Youth Parliament event that I just mentioned in 2019, where people from all parties across the House agreed that the voting edge should be extended to the 16.

And it was a huge topic also discussed in this year’s Youth Parliament event [2022]. So much so that we saw a lot of media attention, which was incredibly awesome.

And during the Youth Parliament event, there was also an open letter, which over 60 Youth MPs signed calling on the Government to lower the voting age for both local and general elections. 

And I think it really demonstrated in of itself, the event demonstrates how politically engaged young people are. But it also showed how many people, how many young people, care about this issue of lowering the voting age.

Next slide.

And then the next part of our story is that we launched our first petition to lower the voting age in 2020. And earlier this year, in September [2022], we handed it in with about 7,500 signatures, which was so awesome. And, we think that that completely demonstrated that the cause had thousands of backers

And for us as an organisation, we had a lot of emphasis and focus placed on that petition in order to demonstrate that we had that backing, and to put that direct pressure on elected representatives to lower the voting age. And that’s been a really awesome opportunity for us as an organisation to think more strategically and tactically about how we grassroots campaign, because that time of our petition drive was really about thinking about what Sanat’s talked about before – about networking, and how we get more rangatahi involved across the country, and just public backing in general.

And what this slide also mentions is about Kate Sheppard’s first petition for women’s suffrage. It only had nine thousand signatures. So the fact that we were close to their effort was quite a big achievement for us as an organisation.

And then the next part of our story is that, earlier this year, in June [2022], we handed in our first Open Letter with 72 signatures from different local body elected representatives from across the country. And we went to Parliament and handed it on to Ginny Anderson, who is MP for Hutt South and Chairperson of the Justice Select Committee, which is really awesome. And we had a super productive conversation with her. And we had pictured in that photo Josh Trlin, who is a Porirua City Councillor, who came out all the way to support us as well. So that was really significant for us, and we’ll be discussing that further as that Open Letter was specifically about lowering the voting age for local body elections, and that’s a particular focus to us at the moment, trying to catch a momentum about that.

Sorry bit of a mouthful but we’re getting there. So next up with our story. 

What we’ve really tried to do this year is to try and, like Sanat said, is to expand our network and try and reach out to those people who are super passionate about this but just trying to make it that, just an easier step to be able to get involved. So we’ve really grown our volunteer base very significantly. We’ve jumped from … 

So, we have a leadership group of about twelve people,

but our platform that we use to communicate on, we have, I think, almost, I’m not sure, maybe 90 or 100.

Caitlin Taylor (she/her): 

It’s easily 100. And then we also got a Facebook volunteer chat or volunteer group that was the original group, and that has probably another extra 100 on there.

But since the campaign is 3 years old, I think a lot of people are sort of aged up, and then felt like they need to pass it on to the younger people. But we’ve definitely got almost 100 on our Slack channels now, which is epic. 

I can let you continue Anika.

Anika Green (she/her/ia):

We’ve got a huge, active volunteer base who’s super dedicated, and really passionate about helping out in any way they can. And as we’ve already mentioned about our regional hubs – we have a regional hub in Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland, and we also have one here in Te Whanganui-a-Tara where I am, in Wellington, and we’re also supporting people in lots of other parts of the countries too, who are trying to establish their own regional hubs with the hope of trying to get more of your community on board with the idea of lowering the voting age. 

And like we were saying earlier about petition … we had our birthday month in September, for three years, I believe, Caitlin?

Caitlin Taylor (she/her): 

Yep, yep, we had our third birthday in September, yeah.

Anika Green (she/her/ia):

And that was really an opportunity for the established regional hubs, Tāmaki Makaurau and Te Whanganui-a-Tara, to really try and push their grassroots campaigning to get people more on board with our petition and with our campaign in general. And that was really awesome. Tāmaki Makaurau has achieved some really, really awesome stuff. Sanat and Caeden, our two Co-Directors, have really led some incredible work up in Tāmaki getting lots of really well-renowned community leaders involved with supporting Make It 16, and just having lots of open huis and really starting a dialogue about this and about different ways we can strategically campaign. 

Caitlin Taylor (she/her): 

Sweet! So I’m gonna go about our court case. I am [by] no means the legal person – our legal and policy leader’s been very busy. It’s also his birthday today. So we thought it was fair that he at least had an evening to himself. But I’ve been working with him, with Thomas, a fair amount, so I think I’m capable of explaining it. So just to go over the basics of our court case. 

So, the Electoral Act and the Local Electoral Act say that everyone 18 years and older has the right to vote. Yet the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act says our right to be free from age discrimination commences from the age of 16. So there is a direct clash between those 2 laws. 

In 2019, we had some incredible lawyers from DLA Piper approach us and say: hey, there’s a potential court case here. And so that’s what we did. They said that we can make a case about how this is actually unjustified age discrimination. And the voting age has to be demonstrably justified. And, as we know, there are many more reasons to justify a voting age of 16 rather than one of 18 – those reasons, we’re happy to go over later on in question time.

But essentially, during the entire court case, we’re seeking what’s called a Declaration of Inconsistency. And this is basically an announce from the courts telling Parliament that this is a serious breach of human rights, and that they need to fix this and sort it out.

So, our first case was in the High Court back in 2019, and then we got a decision from Justice Doogue in 2020. And while they did find, well she did find that there was a discrimination, she believed that that discrimination was justified. 

And here’s some photos back then [in the presentation slides], when we went to the High Court. Some faces of the campaign have changed since then, as Make It 16 is about 16- and 17-year olds, a 2 year age gap. Yet since we’re 3 years old now, some people have aged up and passed the baton on to younger people. I’m probably going to be one of those people next year, seeing as I’m 20 and kind of old for the campaign. But it’s kind of cool looking back on old photos, and seeing how far we’ve come.

There’s also a documentary that followed our journey – taking this to the High Court. Unfortunately we lost, so it is a bit of a depressing ending to the documentary but it’s still really an interesting one to watch, and I’m happy to share the link in the comments after this presentation [Click here to see the documentary].

So, since we lost in the High Court, we decided to take this to the Court of Appeal and appeal our case and this one we almost won. 

So, there were 3 judges on this case, and they did find that there was age discrimination, and that the Government could not justify it – so just disagreeing with the High Court on the second point. Basically, they agreed with our key arguments, but they decided to use discretion and decline to issue a formal Declaration of Inconsistency. So, in other words, while there was age discrimination, they decided they didn’t have to formally say that. And the reason they gave that is because they believed it was a quintessentially political issue for the courts, which is quite frustrating since it was age discrimination. But it was also encouraging, because that did give us enough grounds to take this to the Supreme Court, where issues and cases that are of public interest are normally discussed and debated, and [having] grounds to go to the Supreme Court [was] very exciting for us. And I’ll pass this over to Sanat, who’s gonna discuss the Supreme Court.

Sanat Singh (he/him): 

I’d like to explain the Supreme Court case.

So everything really changed for us last week, Monday [28 November 2022], when the Declaration of Inconsistency came, and – I’m going to be honest, I’ve said this to a bunch of people [and] I haven’t really processed it fully myself …

We had our Supreme Court hearing in July of this year [2022]. And they very quickly came to us with the judgment – we were predicting it in about January – but they came back to us last week. And they came back and said that: yes, there is age discrimination; yes, it is unjustified; but the most important component of that entire thing was that they gave us that formal Declaration of Inconsistency to say that it is a breach of Bill of Rights. Fundamentally, it is unethical to prevent 16 … well, no … it is unethical to continue to keep the voting age of 18.

So that was a monumental decision for us. It was a significant day for the campaign, but also for the country, because it was a landmark decision.

But, you know, something that we hadn’t seen coming for us was: we thought that the Government would follow its [standard] process because they have a process to deal with Declarations of Inconsistencies, but rather, very quickly, the situation developed into the Prime Minister announcing that a bill is going to be introduced to Parliament, and we’re expecting that bill to be introduced before Christmas [2022], actually. 

So events have rapidly developed since last Monday, and we’re very much gearing up for an intense, probably 6-month period of campaigning. But this court, this court case is extremely monumental because now it does a couple of things for us. It really pushes the burden of proof on those people who are currently out there opposing us to really justify why 18 is still a valid age when there are demonstrable and legal and constitutional reasons as to why it really isn’t. And that’s incredibly advantageous for us. 

And – if we go to the next slide – it’s also allowed us to really dominate some of the media cycle for the last week as well. We’ve got an incredible amount of coverage in domestic media, but we’ve also had some coverage from international media as well – so from the BBC, from the Guardian. So very much, this has been a historical day for the country and a campaign. 

But it’s also a defining moment for us because we are now, in some senses, a world-leading campaign. There are no grassroots movements in the world that are at this stage or have reached this level of scale or relevance in political discussions across the world. So we’re very much carving the way for other grassroots movements in Australia and the US and Canada and the UK – countries similar to ours – to come out and start really fighting for this, and that’s a really exciting piece for us as well.

Can we go to the next slide?

Caitlin Taylor (she/her): 

Sure can. There you go.

Sanat Singh (he/him): 

So the bill is the most important thing for us now: this is the mechanism that’s obviously going to allow us to lower the voting age. 

Unfortunately, very quickly, the opposing parties came out and said ‘no, we don’t believe the voting age should be lowered’ and that’s a little bit difficult for us because in order to lower the voting age for general elections, we have to get over that entrenched provision barrier, that 75% super majority. 

It’s kind of interesting because there’s been quite a lot of conversations that we did not expect about that entrenched provision in the media, and just, in general, the public discourse as well.

And so, it’s been brought into attention that look, this entrenched provision around voting age where you can take away someone’s right to vote [with] 51% of Parliament but can only empower someone to vote with 75% of Parliament. And it’s a little bit inconsistent. It’s a little bit funny. 

So that’s an interesting something that’s happening for us right now. But since that 75% super majority exists, we’re currently in a very intense lobbying stage to make sure that there is a separate vote on local elections and general elections; that separation in a single piece of legislation can happen, or it can happen in 2 pieces of legislation, but either way, it’d be a little bit amiss for the Government to not follow its own advice that it got from the Future of Local Government Review, and not to make sure that its laws are consistent with the rights it guarantees to its citizens, and make sure that the voting age is lowered for at least local elections. And we know that the votes are currently, or we hope the votes current exist in Parliament for that. So that’s currently what we’re lobbying for.

So the legislation that’s going to be introduced should have that separate vote, and we can expect then, by next year [2023] to have a lower voting age [for] the local elections for the 2025 vote. 

Can we move on to the next slide, please?

Currently, we’re calling on cabinet ministers. We’re really canvassing public support as much as we can. 

Porirua [City] Council came out with that motion – a 9-2 vote – saying that they backed us and we’re trying to replicate that across the country with councils and community boards as well. And this is a really important thing for us, because I think it’s going to solidify the case that … look, once you lower the voting age for any sort of election, the world doesn’t stop turning. Once you bring 16- and 17-year-olds to this decision-making table, democracy’s enhanced, people are empowered but, more importantly, the bad things that people are talking about don’t really materialise. And globally, when the voting age has been lowered, it’s usually been in a local context first, Malta being the most relevant example here, where they lowered it for the municipal elections across the board first, and then their general elections more universally. So that’s really what we’re trying to do here is develop a case to say: look, it works so well for local elections, now you can do it for general elections as well. But that’s going to take a little bit longer.

[After some small group and plenary discussions, Sanat picks up on the Next Steps slide of the presentation.]

Sanat Singh (he/him): 

So, as I mentioned before, the bill was introduced, or the Prime Minister said that they’re going to introduce a bill, and we predict that bill is going to be coming out before Christmas. 

But there’s some critical things that we want in that bill [and] some critical things we want to be doing as a campaign over the next two weeks before that bill is introduced, then over the next six months, over the lifetime of that bill … so from first reading to third reading, and then for the 2023 General Election and beyond.

But as I mentioned before, the first thing that we’re critically looking for in the next 2 weeks is that separation of Local versus General: we really need to get over that super majority barrier and at least get the voting age lowered for local elections. So we’ve been urging Cabinet Ministers to either introduce those two separate bills or to have the separation within a single piece of legislation.

Then there’s the 2023 General Election and I think this really serves as a battleground for us to do a lot of different campaigning that we haven’t attempted before, especially across the regions where we’ve developed the networks and communities that we need in order to get that over.

So, […] Make It 16 is uniquely placed to really carve out a path or a distinct position for young people in democracy to participate in very different ways than older people currently participate, right?

That over emphasis on voting and that 3-year election cycle is not conducive to a healthy democracy. What is instead conducive to a healthy democracy is a culture of participating in civic discussions regardless of whether or not it’s election year or not. And so that 2023 General Election timespan really gives us an opportunity to try out some really cool ideas with the communities across the country, to bring young people to the decision-making table and showcase [to the] entire country how capable they really are.

And then beyond that, that leads into what we have to do in the lead up to the 2025 local elections specifically around civics, and ensuring that we to create the best case possible, where there is a higher participation from 16 to 17 year olds than for 18 year olds. Obviously [this is] not a low barrier to cross but we’re going to try hard to get it up there, anyway.

The primary mechanism we see that happening through is through our regional campaign hubs. They’re going to be the entities that allow us to really get our foot in the door in spaces across the country and talk to people that are disengaged/disadvantaged, and work with them to really redefine how young people are going to be engaging in democracy for generations to come.

If you go to the next slide.

And one of the questions that was asked to us in that little meeting we had […] for this presentation, was: how [do] the young people experience our democracy? What […] is the sort of way that they’re going to participate if they’re not going to be voting? What is the status quo right now?

And, I wanted to outline that, that the guts of it are here [see the presentation slide]. It’s pretty bare bones, because there aren’t really significant or substantial avenues to participate unless you’re already engaged, you’re already privileged, you’re already, you know, you already have access and experience in these spaces, right? There’s institutional pathways like submitting petitions or participating in select committee. 

And, as evidenced by the millions of dollars that are being poured into youth engagement, obviously those institutional pathways are not conducive to positive youth engagement currently as they stand. 

Obviously, there are protests, and that’s an indictment on [the] abilities for successive governments to represent the needs of younger people. Clearly, even in that, we’re falling short of the ticket to really represent their needs.

There’s community organising, and that’s what we’re doing as Make It 16, and obviously we’re still not able to capture the widest net of young people in Aotearoa possible to make sure that all of their needs are being represented, or all of their needs are going to be on the decision-making table. 

And obviously their civics education, which, as it currently stands, is pretty bare bones in New Zealand’s education system. Currently, it is being introduced in successive stages.

But what we really need to be doing as a movement, and as a collective set of organisations that are invested in the health of our democracy, is to design and create a civics culture for young people that is a lot different to what it currently looks like today. And the reason I say lowering the voting age is going to enhance all of these pathways for young people to experience democracy is because suddenly they have tangibility, suddenly they have a reason to care, suddenly it’s not about tokenistic representation. [Rather] it’s about, look, I have a vote; what am I actually going to do with it? 

And I think we tend to underestimate the abilities for even the average 16 year old, who we think is unengaged, to have some really insightful opinions about the sort of world that they want to live in. 

So, how do young people experience our democracy? Currently, not well. But Make It 16 is really uniquely positioned over the next few years to re-enhance and redevelop that space with all the current work that’s going around to make sure that we are producing some really good youth engagement. 

We can go to the next slide.

So, definitely support us in the efforts that we have coming up over the next six months, in the medium-term, and then in the long-term as well. There’re some very quick, tangible things that you can do. You can join our mailing list and just be in touch with all of this stuff that’s happening in the campaign as it develops. You can donate to the campaign. We rely on donations from everyday New Zealanders to be able to fund some of the work that we’re doing across the country.

But some of the more critical things that you can be doing are helping us get into spaces we usually don’t have access to. We really enjoy doing presentations like this. We really enjoy going into different spaces and presenting our arguments some more, developing relationships with people across this country, so that we can get to that work of developing that youth engagement culture that we need.

So if you guys have access to spaces, or you want us to present to a classroom or through a group that you know, please email us and we’re more than willing to step in and do that because we love having those conversations.

And then, when given the opportunity, obviously, help us raise awareness and change minds.

And if you are supportive of us, if you do really like what we’re trying to say here, what we find is that usually when you sit down with people that oppose us, they tend to change their minds after you go through the arguments, and you go through the works a little bit.

So when given the opportunity, please, please, please, help us fight this cause because anyone and everyone talking about it means that we’re getting closer and closer to our goal.

Well, thank you very much, everyone.

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