Will enough young people sign up to vote by Monday?

Talking points

  • Just 55 per cent of eligible 18-year-old Australians are enrolled to vote. 
  • YouTubers and TikTokers have undertaken to get people signed up ahead of the April 25 deadline.
  • The AEC says the younger the voter, the less likely they are to be enrolled.

The race is on to get tens of thousands of young people signed up to the electoral roll by Monday night, with only 55 per cent of eligible 18-year-olds enrolled and concerns that next Monday’s deadline will sneak up on them.

Voters have until 8pm next Monday to update their electoral details or enrol for the first time via the Australian Electoral Commission – a date which falls in the middle of school holidays and on the Easter long weekend.

Ellie Woods, 29-year-old TikToker and former high school teacher, has taken it upon herself to post educational videos about how to enrol.Credit:Louise Kennerley

However, the early signs are promising. Since last Sunday when the election was called, 28,000 people updated or enrolled – 21,000 of whom are new voters who turned 18 since the last election.

As of the end of March, Australia’s enrolment rate for the whole population was 96.5 per cent. For young voters – defined as 18 to 24-year-olds – that drops to 85 per cent. At the 2019 federal election, that figure was 88 per cent.

According to the Australian Electoral Commission, which runs the election, the younger the voter, the less likely they are to be enrolled. Among 18 to 20-year-olds, the enrolment figure at the end of March was just 75 per cent.

A spokesman for the AEC said the final week before the enrolment cut off usually saw a big influx of last-minute sign-ups, but noted the date was falling in a holiday period.

There are just over 152,000 18-year-olds signed up to vote – around 55 per cent of those eligible. By comparison, when the 2019 election was called, there were approximately 138,000 18-year-olds enrolled (less than 50 per cent). That year the AEC managed to get 50,000 more added before polls closed (the AEC was unable to provide a final percentage figure for 2019 by deadline).

Fearing there is too little information available to young people about the importance of voting, YouTubers and TikTokers have taken it upon themselves to help get people signed up this week.

Peter Cox, known online as the man behind the “Auspol explained” social media channels, started making explainer videos in his spare time two-and-a-half years ago after finding he was constantly fielding the same questions from young people.

“[They’d] ask me the same basic questions: How do I vote? How do I enrol to vote? What’s preferential voting? What’s the difference between the political parties?,” he said.

Cox, a 30-year-old West Australian who works in education, said many of his young followers weren’t aware they didn’t automatically become enrolled when they turned 18, and in recent days he’s been pushing the message.

Ellie Woods, a 28-year-old former highschool teacher and amateur political TikToker, said she had also been overwhelmed by responses to her recent videos reminding her young audience to enrol and vote.

“Forty per cent of my followers are below the age of 25,” she said. “I’m surprised by how many people have commented saying, ‘How do I do it?’”

Senior lecturer in politics at the Australian National University Dr Jill Sheppard, said low enrolment rates for first-time voters was a “long-running trend in Australian politics”.

“We [as a country] pat ourselves on the back and go around the world touting our figures of more than 90 per cent enrolment and turnout … but there are little pockets of disengagement that have gone unnoticed for too long,” she said.

She said an introduction of the AEC’s direct enrolment when people applied for a medicare card or got a driver’s licence was meant to alleviate the issue, but “didn’t seem to be working as well as we had hoped”.

Sheppard said a possible explanation was the phenomenon of ‘extended adolescence’ where young people are living at home for longer and therefore not getting their own medicare cards or licences at 18.

First-time voter Timothy Halliday, 18, from Ringwood in Melbourne’s outer east, said he signed up when he first got a letter from the AEC on his 17th birthday, but said others in his age group needed more prodding.

“I think having someone from the Electoral Commission going to my school and talking about the importance of enrolling and like, how young people can have a big impact and that we need to vote – I think that’d be really good,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the AEC said the commission did not visit schools and instead relied on digital strategies.

The AEC is sponsoring ads on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It steered clear of creating an account on the wildly popular video-sharing platform TikTok, “for security reasons” but helped the platform create an election guide to counter disinformation.

Woods said there was a bigger picture beyond just getting people signed up – and that her TikTok audience was asking for explainers on the basic differences between each party.

“Now, being 29, I feel as though some of the people that I went to high school with, as an example, they’re only just understanding what politics means,” she said.

“I’ve even seen people say [after watching my videos] that this is the first election that they will actually vote that they won’t draw on the ballot.”

Jacqueline Maley cuts through the noise of the federal election campaign with news, views and expert analysis. Sign up to our Australia Votes 2022 newsletter here.

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