Young voters matter for a vibrant democracy


Praneeta Mahajan
Hamilton, August 21, 2023

New Zealand is a nation known for its commitment to democracy and civic participation. At the heart of this vibrant democratic culture lies the involvement of young people in elections. Youth, typically defined as those between 18 and 29 years old, constitute a significant portion of the population and possess the power to shape the nation’s future.

The critical role of youth in elections and how their engagement can shape the future of our society cannot be undermined. The impact of youth participation in the electoral process and why it is essential for building a vibrant democracy is a discussion that needs to be highlighted.

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Why it matters

Young people represent the future of our society, and their voices must be heard in the democratic process. When they engage in elections, they bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and a deep passion for positive change.

The 2019 general election in New Zealand witnessed an increase in youth voter turnout, with approximately 70% of registered voters aged 18 to 29 casting their ballots. This surge in participation showcased the growing interest and political awareness among young people.

The issues that matter most to young voters, such as education, employment, climate change, social justice, personal freedom and liberty are bound to have a significant impact on the direction of the country. Their votes can influence the priorities of elected officials and shape policies that directly affect their lives and the lives of future generations.

Barriers to greater engagement

Despite their potential to bring about change, many young people remain disengaged from politics. There are several factors contributing to low youth voter turnout.

One primary barrier is a lack of political education and awareness. Many young people feel uninformed about the issues, candidates, and the voting process itself.

Additionally, some may feel disillusioned by the political system, believing their vote would not make a difference. To address this, political parties and candidates need to actively reach out to young people and address their concerns.

Another significant obstacle is voter registration hurdles and difficulties in accessing polling locations, especially for college students and young people in rural areas. historically, youth voter turnout in New Zealand has been lower than other age groups, partly due to barriers in the voter registration process and limited accessibility to polling stations.

simplifying the voter registration process and implementing early voting options can make it easier for young people to participate, especially those with busy schedules or limited access to transportation.

Lastly, the absence of candidates who genuinely represent youth interests and the lack of outreach efforts specifically targeting young voters also play a role. The political parties can highlight their youth role models and make politics within the reach of youth, through debates, interviews and active engagement.

Working towards the solutions

To address all of these challenges, Political education is ultimately the key. We must prioritise teaching civics in schools and universities to ensure that young people understand their rights, the importance of voting, and how their government functions. Grassroots organisations and community outreach initiatives can play a vital role in engaging young voters by providing information and support.

Benefit of technology

The biggest opportunity for all political parties in the upcoming elections is youth engagement, as they are the change makers, and engaging with this demographic is easier due to technology. We all have heroes in our communities, who are working towards issues that they are passionate about, and easier accessibility through various social media platforms can facilitate a positive discussion about how society can thrive and work towards a better political and social landscape.

Praneeta Mahajan is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Hamilton.

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