ProRep boosts diversity, youth vote

PR helps young people feel invested in politics

Editor’s note: Katie Betanzo was raised in the Comox Valley and New Zealand. She’s a former editor of The Breezeway, the now defunct award-winning student newspaper at G.P. Vanier High School. Betanzo moved to New Zealand in 2001 and teaches media studies and English in Auckland. In this article, Betanzo writes about how proportional representative government works in her adopted country, in particular, how it has engaged younger voters.

 

BY KATIE BETANZO

Why didn’t you vote? “No one represents me.” “My vote doesn’t matter.”

It is a curious fact that the act of voting is habit forming. If you vote in an election, you are 10% more likely to vote in the next election than those who did not vote the first time around. If you are prevented from voting, or choose not to vote, even for one election where you are eligible, you are statistically less likely to vote in subsequent elections.

The most crucial election for a person’s future participation is the very first election after they are eligible.

Young people and their votes matter. If all young voters (aged under 25) voted, that would be a power block equal to the over 65 vote.

I work with teenagers every day, and I hear it all: I don’t care about politics; it’s boring; it doesn’t affect me.

You know what I don’t hear? “No one represents me” and “My vote doesn’t matter.”

Because in here New Zealand, it is obvious that the youth vote does matter (and, in fact, is on the increase). Less than 5% of votes cast in last year’s election were for parties that did not make it into Parliament. Every other vote went to determine the proportional makeup of the House. This is in stark contrast to FPTP. In BC’s election of 2017, ridings were won by as little as 38%; the remaining 62% of voters cast wasted votes.

As for representation, proportional rep has allowed us a far wider range of elected officials than we had under FPTP. Some of the most interesting movers and shakers in our current government were elected via the list vote in our MMP system – a little different from the one proposed in BC.

Our youngest current MP, Chloe Swarbrick, unsuccessfully ran for mayor of our largest city aged just 22. Two years down the track, she has been elected to Parliament via the Green Party list. Ms Swarbrick and her colleague Golriz Ghahraman, the first refugee to become a member of NZ’s parliament, are doing much to engage young people in politics.

Our Prime Minister is also making waves both at home and abroad. Of course it is news that Jacinda Ardern has had a baby during her first year in office, that she is the country’s youngest leader in more than 150 years and our first Labour PM (left of center) in almost a decade.

What is less often talked about is that she is only in office because of proportional representation. Had our 2017 election been FPTP, the incumbent National Party, which dominates in rural areas and small towns, would have been returned with a resounding majority of MPs – and less than half the popular vote. Ardern’s coalition partners, the Greens and New Zealand First, would have failed to make it into Parliament at all – despite gaining collectively over 10% of the vote.

It’s tricky to unpack chicken-and-egg, but my contention is that PR has increased diversity in Parliament at the same time as improving voter participation, especially for young voters.

Because that first vote really is critical.

Katie Betanzo may be reached at echo5@orcon.net.nz

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