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Students embrace politics in countdown to 2020 election

15 October 2020

Students at the University of Canterbury (UC) have organised a number of events to connect young voters with political candidates in the lead-up to the 2020 elections.


Hinerangi Curtis, Phillipstown Community Hub General Manager Viviana Zanetti, Lisa McLaren and Jovis Lavalais worked together to create an event for students to meet political candidates.


Students at the University of Canterbury (UC) have organised a number of events to connect young voters with political candidates in the lead-up to the 2020 elections.

Ishan Brailsford is a Bachelor of Commerce marketing student with a minor in political science. As President of the UC Political Science Society | Te Hunga Mātai Tōrangapū o Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha he has a keen interest in making sure young people exercise their right to vote.

“We are so lucky to have a representative democracy in New Zealand and it’s vitally important that we each do our little bit in making sure that we the people are represented in Wellington,” he says.  

Brailsford was not deterred by researching the referenda issues of cannabis legalisation and the End of Life bill; rather he found “lots of good, balanced and non-partisan resources. The site was good!”

He set an example by voting on the first day polling opened and many of his friends have also already voted ahead of the Election Day on 17 October. It has never been easier to vote, he says. “There’s two voting places on campus this year, drop in and cast your vote, it’s quick and easy and you’ll earn your right to complain about the government for another three years - if you’re eligible and don’t vote, you can’t complain.” 

Professor of Political Science at UC Bronwyn Hayward adds that for the first time in New Zealand history, people can turn up to polling stations, enrol and cast their votes in one visit. This may serve young people well if they haven’t yet joined the electoral register. “And it is really important that they vote, because what happens next, after Covid, could affect young people for the rest of their lives,” she says.  

She notes that young people may be politically engaged, but they need to vote to have their voices heard. “18 to 24 year-olds in the Ilam electorate are by far the largest cohort of voters - there are 10,400 of student voters so their vote could make a really big difference, but only 71.5% are enrolled so far. The next biggest group is everyone over 70, there are 8,800 in Ilam and 98.5% are registered to vote already, so young people need to take part to be heard - and this year they can just turn up and be counted.”

Bachelor of Youth and Community Leadership student Lisa McLaren helped to organise ‘Grill a Candidate’ last Saturday with fellow students, Hinerangi Curtis and Jovis Lavalais for Chch101, UC’s ground-breaking paper Strengthening Communities through Social Innovation. The students were challenged with designing and implementing a project that had a positive impact in the community. All the major candidates for Christchurch Central attended, along with the Green Party candidate for Ilam – where the university is situated. Some 20 students were there to ask questions.

“We considered the event to be incredibly successful, based on the turnout,” McLaren says. “It was also a very diverse audience, which made for a robust debate given that the candidates were being challenged by individuals of many occupations.

Philipstown Community Hub hold Grill a Candidate events before national and local elections to boost political awareness and welcomed the student’s input. “The Philipstown community typically exhibits very low levels of community engagement, especially politically, so it was awesome to see a large group coming to engage with the candidates. The candidates were also a real asset given their willingness to have discussions with members of the public before and after the debate. We are sure that it led to some insightful discussions.”

The presence of younger candidates helps young people to engage with politics, McLaren says.

“Of course, it is always wonderful to see younger candidates getting involved. One of the candidates for Christchurch Central, Abby Johnson is a fellow UC student. Unfortunately, she was unable to join us on the day - but it is awesome to see someone even younger than Hinerangi, Jovis and myself being brave enough to run for an electorate. Chloe Swarbrick is also an inspiring younger candidate who has really been a vehicle for youth political engagement.

“It is important to see candidates who are not so far removed from the realities of being a young person in 2020, for example on mental health issues, financial anxiety and climate change.”

An electoral debate was also organised by the University of Canterbury Student’s Association (UCSA), Christchurch Youth Council and Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation (PYLAT) and held on 13 October at UC. Free ice creams were being given away at voting booths on 14 October and the USCA’s social media posts have been encouraging students to vote.

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