It’s a lovely sunny morning in Hamilton as we pull up with the big red bus at Wintec, the local polytechnic.
Early polling booths had officially opened today at Wintec, and I was excited to see how long the voting lines would be and how many enthusiastic students and first time voters would be there. But I guess I was being a little naive and had way too-high hopes, not knowing that at the last election early voting got about near to nothing turn out, and the election ended up with the lowest voting turn out since 1887.
With one of the lowest turn outs of ever among young people in the 2011 election….. where has the youth vote gone? Why has it gone? And how can we really effectively change this? We are the future!
But the polling booths were up and the Electoral Commission had set up a large board advertising voting, positioned it in the middle of the polytechs Hub. By it was a large board containing one large statement “my current wage doesn’t cover my rent. Thoughts?”
The four young employees from the Electoral Commission stood by engaging with the students at Wintec, asking them to answer this question. Obviously a constant thought on the mind of most students around New Zealand.
I then looked at some astounding statistics, which show the main reasons why people didn’t vote; “I didn’t think it was worth voting because my vote wouldn’t have made a difference” - in 2008 3.9% of people stated this and in 2011 it almost doubled to 7.1%
A little while later, when I began to hand out Labour GOTV cards, a young student of Wintec, Laura, told me that she hadn’t voted yet and was still undecided as to whether she would vote. I began to reason how this can happen; and also why this young woman living in such a progressive, and also one of the most reformist, nations would not even consider voting.
An issue important to Laura was how frustrated she felt in seeing too many young single mothers on minimal wages, and the battles they face in New Zealand. And the lack of support she had seen for young single mothers on a national level.
Soon the conversation moved toward how the youth vote is indeed extremely important and crucial. Laura told me that she was disillusioned by other political parties and wasn’t completely sure if Labour would bring around change. As she was stating this to me the Labour candidate Cliff Allen was walking past. He came up and joined the discussion. Unexpectedly, not in a standard political manner, he didn’t go into auto pilot and state policy but asked her what had disillusioned her and then began to discuss how Labour would really and effectively change this. I was not only impressed by this, but by the way he held himself and his sheer humility. Laura came back to me to say that she was also very impressed by how humble he is and said she was now really considering voting.
Later that afternoon I was delighted as came back with a badge saying “I voted!” Telling me that Labour has her support now. I couldn’t have been happier, by not just the support but also by the sheer joy she felt to have actually voted and to have voted for change, to bring Labour in, the party for our youth, and the party for our future.