Opinion: Work to engage young voters

By Katie Shevlin

Western Bay of Plenty youth MP Grahame Woods, on young voter engagement at the WBOPDC elections. Photo/ George Novak
Western Bay of Plenty youth MP Grahame Woods, on young voter engagement at the WBOPDC elections. Photo/ George Novak

Some Western Bay councillors reveal that engaging young people is a concerning issue for them.

And it is a hugely important issue. Democracy isn't working if young people aren't represented and councils nationwide need to make the engagement of young people a priority.

Some Western Bay councillors believe a youth council is a good idea and could be looked into in the future, which is great, but they also need to do something to increase young voter turnout now.

The old 'don't complain if you don't vote' is no excuse. Young people not voting isn't because they are uncaring. On the contrary, young people are passionate about social action. This was evidenced over the weekend by the huge number of young people who helped with the beach clean-up.

So if they aren't voting, it is likely because they feel unrepresented. Young people feel like politicians don't care about what matters to them. And, looking at the crop of candidates for the local elections this year, they are indeed, in my view, lacking in relatability.

Now, a young person running for council is highly unlikely given the large amount of time and money you have to commit to the cause, which means current candidates need to work to be more relatable. It is unrealistic to expect 18-24-year-olds to attend campaign meetings.

Candidates need to get on their level. Put more information online, reach them via social media. It's not hard. And if you're running for council it means you want to represent people, to give them a voice. All the people.

Granted, it is a sort of chicken and egg situation. Politicians typically chase votes, and if younger people are expected not to vote then why should politicians bother coming up with policies that relate to young people at all. But I don't think that's really good enough.

Brexit clearly showed the danger of poor voting turnout amongst young people. And, in New Zealand, we risk young people becoming more and more detached from the political process.

Work to engage them, and they will become engaged.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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