Young people are slipping through the net according to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). One in two of those recently eligible to vote are not registered. Is this because they are simply apathetic, forgetful or could not be bothered? Or is there something more deliberate in their actions and they are actively avoiding the electoral roll?
According to the latest figures there are 1.5 million Australians who are eligible to vote but are not enrolled. The ‘Count Me In’ campaign by the AEC aims to rectify this. According to their press release half of 18-19 year olds are not on the role and the figures aren’t that much better for those up to age 39. Out of roughly 11 million voters the number who aren’t voting are consequential – enough to sway outcomes in many seats.
In a radio interview the AEC spokesperson reflected that young people are mobile and often changing addresses without notifying them. This is true enough of those in their early 20s to 30s. They do change their living circumstances often, from one house share to the next and one country to the next. For the 18-19 year olds moving about doesn’t explain things enough. The overwhelming majority live at their parents’ home and are most likely to continue doing so for quite some years to come (and to the their parents’ lament keep returning home once they have moved out).
Apathy is the real problem. Young people are not rushing to play their part in our democratic system. They do not see it as an overwhelming responsibility and rite of passage to be eagerly adopted. Truth is, they are disconnected from the political process and too many of them are happy to stay out or it. Ask them about it and many simply don’t care. Many do not see the point. Their one vote feels very ineffectual and therefore redundant. And they do not feel it makes any difference whichever major party is in power.
Far from being connected to politics and the political process they are quite the opposite. They see it as a game where the different parties seek to score points at each other’s expenses. They are neither interested nor exposed to the robust debate that may take place but to the news grabs, negative commentary and the shenanigans of question time.
Having matured into an era of a booming economy and high unemployment they have little to protest. No issues galvanise them out of apathy. Those that were excited by the climate change debate that preceded the 2007 election feel like fools for having gotten their hopes up or cared. Nothing really changed. So they are back to worrying about real life issues, like working, going out, travelling and studying. They admit not knowing much about the parties, candidates or what they stand for.
Of more concern for the AEC, and for us all, are those choosing to be actively apathetic. They feel their passion is best served by avoiding the system altogether. They stay one step ahead of the electoral role and are proud of having avoided it thus far. They have passion that is not cultivated or encouraged.
Considering the current political climate of adversary there are no encouraging signs on the horizon. We can expect more apathy and more active apathy both in avoiding the electoral role and casting blank or invalid ballots. Not being counted seems to count.