Young political voice aim of website

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 12:28 20/08/2014
Meg Howie
Jonathan Lemmon
YOUTH VOTE: Meg Howie, former Nelson College for Girls dux, has set up the Ask Away website to connect young voters to politicians.

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A former Nelson College for Girls' dux is helping young people get answers to their important questions this year, straight from the politicians vying for their votes.

Since leaving school as dux in 2008, Meg Howie has been studying design in Wellington where she is the project leader on a campaign aimed at encouraging and informing young voters.

She is behind the Ask Away website, launched this month, which allows anyone to ask a question and have it answered by politicians on the election trail.

The website aims to be an easy way to find out the parties' positions on issues, and to compare their views side by side. Users can vote on questions they most want answered, creating a list of trending questions for politicians to respond to. They can also comment on postings, allowing them to share opinions or ask further questions.

Howie started her design degree in 2010, and this year began work on her masters. She says she has Nelson College for Girls head of arts Anna Heinz to thank for introducing her to a career in designing.

She wanted to inspire young people to feel more engaged with politics.

"I felt like we could make it much more interesting for people to make them feel like they had a role and a voice and interact in the same way we interact on social media. I thought people could do that with politicians."

Howie is pleased with the feedback on the site so far.

More than 350 questions have been posted, and more than 100 answers from the different parties, including answers from Cabinet ministers.

"There's been a lot of answers from right across the political spectrum. It's been really cool to see people engaging with politicians and the politicians responding. It's been really rewarding."

Questions varied from economics, to gender equality, to teaching te reo Maori in schools.

Ask Away's most popular question was about changing New Zealand's current climate change policies, and had been answered by representatives from the Greens, Labour, National, Internet Mana, NZ First and United Future.

"One of the surprising ones was about religious instruction in schools. That was really interesting to see something that hasn't been covered in the rest of the election conversations. It seems to be important to a lot of people."

She said using social media and websites like hers were "really important" to try to combat low young voter turnout.

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"It's quite connected to whether young people can see themselves in the political system and whether they feel like their voice is valid and they are being listened to."

Howie had seen a "rapid change" in how information was being spread about political parties this election year, with more emphasis on social media.

Howie is also using social media to promote the site, and so far, has 30,000 page visit 7000 unique visitors to the site. She estimates there are close to 1000 visits a day.

The website is part of the Massey University's Design and Democracy project, and are among several that make up the Virgin Voters Collective.

- The Nelson Mail

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