Wellington Central well short of national average in number of enrolled young voters
Just under half of all eligible young voters in Wellington Central electorate are enrolled to vote, with apathy and a large student population identified as contributing factors.
With September's general election beckoning, the Electoral Commission and various student groups have been leading the charge in getting 18 to 24-year-olds in the constituency signed up.
Newly released statistics show an estimated 15,250 voters under 25 are eligible to vote in Wellington Central, but only 7394 are enrolled, leaving 7856 unaccounted for.
The electorate's percentage of enrolled young voters is only 48.49 per cent, 15 points down on the national average of 63.59 per cent.
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The commission believed a significant number of students were still enrolled in their home electorates, or may have failed to update the organisation with new address details.
There was also a widely held perception that many young voters struggled to see the relevance of voting to their daily lives.
However, Wellington registrar of electors Toni Weir stopped short of saying large swaths of young voters were politically disinterested.
"I am unsure that apathy is just a traditional thing ... I think if we give [young people] the opportunity to vote and the issues to follow, they will vote," Weir said.
New Zealand Union of Students' Association (NZUSA) was preparing to launch its own campaign, We Have Power, next week, aimed at "flipping the narrative of youth apathy".
Politicians vying for the Wellington Central electorate seat took part in a candidates' debate at Victoria University on Wednesday.
Labour candidate Grant Robertson recognised many young people felt disconnected from the political process and, as a result, chose not to vote.
"I think politics can feel very foreign. One of the reasons I got into politics is because I feel like people think politics is something done to them, rather than something that they're part of," he said.
"I think over a long period of time, politics has become this thing that men in suits do down at Parliament. And actually that's not what politics is."
Green Party co-leader James Shaw singled out social and economic exclusion as one of the drivers for not participating in the democratic process.
National candidate Nicola Willis told the student audience that "too many politicians spent time talking to those who agree with them", rather than listening to others with different ideas.
Robertson said Labour had been rejuvenated by Jacinda Ardern's elevation to party leader on Tuesday and predicted her leadership would inspire more younger people to vote.
"I don't think we've all seen in the last 24 hours why Jacinda Ardern will be one of our great prime ministers. She's a person who really connects not only with young people, but across the board.
"I definitely think younger voters will be more interested in the election now that Jacinda is there. She's not a youth – she's 'youth adjacent' – but she certainly represents things that, I think, young people feel are important."
Weir said the commission was taking strides to attract more young people to engage in the voting process by more face-to-face engagement with prospective voters.
Advance voting places and polling stations on election day were also due to be set up in places where young people frequently access, including universities and libraries.