Kids Voting curtain-raiser could electrify elections
Voting in schools works, or would, if more students were involved.
With participation rates so low, the only intervention proven to address the worldwide decline in voter turnout is being relegated to little more than tokenism.
Of the nearly 500 intermediate and secondary schools in Aotearoa, 94 took part in Kids Voting this year. But, because not all students in those schools are given the opportunity to participate, fewer than 4.3% of year-7–15 ‘kids’ are voting.
It can be convincingly argued that voting in schools, and civics education, should be made a mandatory part of the school curriculum. But given the National-led government’s propensity for lumbering local bodies with what should be national policy decisions, compulsory voting in schools is an unlikely development, in the short term. However, even if it was mandated, there is a raft of readily implementable reforms that are also needed, and which wouldn’t exacerbate ideological sensitivities.
One of the more obvious measures would be to charge one body, presumably the Electoral Commission, with the responsibility of delivering Kids Voting. At present, Kids Voting is delivered by three different organisations: Auckland Council; the Electoral Commission; and Local Government New Zealand. At least the latter organisation acknowledges one other provider, by providing a link to Auckland Council, but go the Electoral Commission website and it is all about the general elections next year, with no hint that Kids Voting is only just wrapping up from the local-body elections. Although putting Kids Voting under one roof, so to speak, would require changes to legislation, it should nevertheless be made a priority, but meantime, a little communication between the three silos could yield improvements literally overnight.
Regardless of whether voting in schools is made mandatory, it is necessary for engagement with political processes to be made as exciting as it possibly can be. Yet, the students who slaved over their Kids Voting exercises are still waiting to see the national results, which are not due to be released until 25 November. This is a preposterous failure to treat voting in schools with the respect it deserves. Individual classes may learn their results within two days, but given that the Kids Voting polling closes two weeks prior to the actual election day, and that voting is online, at least in the Auckland region, there is every reason to announce local body election results at midday on the Saturdayor Sunday, if it is—and it should be—made polling day, and no excuse not to.
New Zealanders are utterly imbued with the tradition of the curtain-raiser. Thus it is hard to imagine what better way a family with school-aged could share the voting experience, than by discussing the Kids Voting results when they are released at midday, then firing up the barbecue while waiting to see how they compare with the real thing, as it plays out over the next hour or two. Add it to the Mahurangi Magazine’s list of evidence-based turnout-decline interventions.
And, wonderfully, some parents would stand to catch the voting habit from their under-18-year-olds.
Ordered by urgency of deployment
- Year-7–15 voting as curtain-raiser
- Universal year-7–15 voting in schools
- Concurrent elections, which will quickly recoup the costs of 1–2, and pay for 4–8
- Pre-enfranchised voting
- Pre-enfranchisement enrolment
- Lowering the age of enfranchisement
- Sunday voting
- Online voting