“It’s important that we get to the voting booth so that important issues like climate change and lowering costs for students, especially public transport costs, are addressed in parliament.” – Aditya Mehra, uni student.
By Ricky Matthew
AUCKLAND – In theory, increasing voter turnout amongst young people can significantly impact elections. When they show up at the polls in large numbers, they can influence the outcome, especially in close races. Did more young people register and turn out to vote this year? Such detailed information will only come to hand in about two weeks. For now, we can only speculate based on data from the previous elections.
There was a big increase in the number of young people turning out to vote in the 2020 General Election. “An age breakdown released on www.elections.nz shows the biggest gains in turnout in the younger age groups,” said Chief Electoral Officer Alicia Wright.
“The younger people are when they start voting, the more likely they are to be voters for life, which is important if we are to continue to have high participation rates in future elections.”
In the 18 to 24-year-old age group 43,293 more people voted in the 2020 election than in the previous election. Since 2014, the turnout of enrolled voters in this age group has increased by 15.3%.
With the 2023 New Zealand elections coming to a close, two first-time voters shared their stories, emphasizing the importance of youth engagement in the political process. Miguel Hernandez and Aditya Mehra (not their real names), both students pursuing their dreams in Auckland, are examples of young citizens eager to make their voices heard.
Born and raised in New Zealand, 18-year-old Miguel Hernandez, a Bachelor of Commerce student at the University of Auckland, excitedly cast his first-ever vote this year.
Miguel’s parents are migrants from two different Southeast Asian countries, making him a unique blend of cultures and perspectives. His motivation to vote was fuelled by a desire to have a say in the country’s direction and a keen interest in understanding the differences between left and right-wing policies.
“I wanted to vote because I want to have my say on the direction of the country,” said Miguel. “It was also interesting to learn about the differences between left and right-wing policies and which side aligns with my beliefs.”
Miguel believes that more youth should actively participate in the political process, asserting that their sizeable demographic presence can significantly influence government policies. “I think that young people should vote, because we are a large section of society and by voting we can ensure that the government forms a shape that better reflects our key interests.”
Despite his busy schedule as a university student, Miguel managed to make it to the voting booth on the last day. “I voted at Henderson High School on election day, with only a few hours left, because I am busy with uni throughout the week.”
Aditya Mehra, a 19-year-old engineering student at AUT, hails from a family of Indian migrants who have called New Zealand home for over two decades.
Aditya’s first-time voting experience was driven by a passion for addressing critical issues such as climate change and lowering costs for students, particularly public transport costs.
“It’s important that we get to the voting booth so that important issues like climate change and lowering costs for students, especially public transport costs, are addressed in parliament,” Aditya emphasized.
Yet, the challenge of making an informed voting decision frequently acts as a significant obstacle for young voters. Addressing these common concerns of many young voters about the complexity of the political landscape, Aditya offered valuable advice. “I think that a lot of young people are hesitant to vote because it is hard to figure out who to vote for, but there are many resources online like the Vote Compass quiz that help you learn about different parties and which one speaks to your values,” he said, encouraging his peers to explore accessible tools to make informed decisions.
Stopping by Albany Mall on the way home from AUT, Aditya’s commitment to casting his first vote was evident as he chose to vote on the first day of the election.
The stories of Miguel Hernandez and Aditya Mehra highlight the enthusiasm and passion of New Zealand’s first-time voters for shaping their nation’s future.
Their experiences underscore the importance of political engagement among youth and serve as a reminder that every vote counts, ensuring that the government represents the diverse voices of the nation’s citizens.
As New Zealand looks ahead to the future, young voters will continue to play a vital role in defining the direction of their country.