Voter turnout for young people increased largely between the 2017 and 2020 elections, figures from the Electoral Commission show.
In the 18-24 age group, voter turnout for those enrolled to vote increased by 8.75% to 78.02% overall. Notably, voter turnout for Māori aged 18-24 increased by 7.9%.
Advance voting also increased for the 2020 General Election, with Electoral Commission figures showing that 1,976,996 people voted over the advance voting period last year compared to 1,240,740 in 2017.
Speaking to Craccum, University of Auckland politics lecturer Dr Lara Greaves highlighted the cannabis referendum as a key driver for youth voter turnout.
“People got to vote on an actual policy. Normally we refer to our representatives to sort out things like cannabis and euthanasia, but in this case they got to vote on the issue, and an issue that seems to matter to a lot of people and matter to a lot of young people,” says Greaves.
“In terms of Māori young people, [this is] an issue that those Māori young people know affects their group, and might not affect them but will affect their mates or their cousins. So I think that’s where we see that potential increase, because that’s such a huge increase for Māori young people in particular.”
According to Greaves, other potential reasons for the increase include a long advance voting period that increased accessibility and allowed young people to model behaviour to each other, as well as the COVID-19 lockdowns causing people to realise the influence of the government on their everyday lives and motivate them to vote.
Prior to the 2020 election, Massey University lecturer Veronica Tawhai received a number of complaints regarding the experiences of Māori voters at polling places. These included polling staff being unable to find Māori names on the Māori roll, giving voters incorrect information regarding the Māori roll or in some cases being unaware of the Māori roll completely. As a result, last August Tawhai called for Māori roll specialists to be present at voting places.
“Māori and particularly young Māori are constantly criticised for either being uninformed, uninterested or apathetic when it comes to participating in political activities such as voting,” Tawhai told Newshub.
“And yet when our people attempt to be proactive in exercising our democratic rights, some are prevented from doing so due to ignorance amongst officials that are meant to be assisting in the process.”
Under our electoral rules, Māori can choose to enrol on either the Māori or general roll and therefore vote in either Māori or general electorates. However, Māori can only change rolls every five years, a condition that the Electoral Commission recommended to be changed in 2017 so that Māori could move freely between rolls. In 2017 over 19,000 Māori requested to move between rolls but were unable to.
Looking forward, Dr Greaves says that last year’s increased turnout is a positive sign for future elections.
“Voting is meant to be a habit. The whole idea is if you go when you’re a teenager to vote, you learn how to vote and then you’re more likely to do it as you age, and so I think that’s quite positive from the perspective that we’ve got this great increase in voter turnout in Māori under 25. Now next time when there’s not a referendum, or not a fun referendum, or a referendum that affects them, they’re going to be more likely to vote.”