Online tool engages youth vote for council elections

VoteLocal is an online interactive tool aimed at engaging youth in the voting process and the importance of local government ahead of the local body elections.

VoteLocal ( is an online interactive tool that Massey University’s Design+Democracy Project believe will encourage young New Zealanders to engage with and vote in next month’s local body elections.

The web tool is a game-like questionnaire that guides people towards finding a best match for them among their local mayoral candidates.

It builds on the success of the On the Fence interactive tool that made a tangible difference to youth voter turnout at the 2014 general election.

For this year’s local body elections in Auckland, Wellington and Palmerston North, the project team, which is part of the College of Creative Arts, has created a tool that asks users a series of questions, with responses used to calculate which candidates are most compatible with the user.

Director of the Design+Democracy Project, Karl Kane, says VoteLocal will provide information about the candidates and what they stand for, inform users about what Councils do and debunk the assumption that they aren’t relevant to young New Zealanders.

The mayoral candidates who responded to the approach from the Design+Democracy Project have provided the information needed to inform the algorithm underpinning VoteLocal. All eight Wellington candidates responded along with twelve of the Auckland candidates, and both mayoral candidates in Palmerston North are on board.

As a user plays VoteLocal they generate a custom city in the recognisable guise of their own city (Auckland, Wellington or Palmerston North). Their city avatar can be shared through social media, encouraging further peer-to-peer participation and engagement; the game is social and shareable, sparking conversations about politics with peers and family.

“VoteLocal builds on the success of, as well as the lessons drawn from our previous voter engagement initiatives, especially On the Fence. On the Fence attracted over 170,000 users, with independent research telling us it encouraged 30,000 young New Zealanders to vote. That represents 7 per cent of the eligible youth population,” Mr Kane says.

Tim Parkin, the senior research designer for the project says the appeal of VoteLocal is that it has an approachable and gamelike look and feel, which makes it fun to share. Each question requires the user to think of the issue as a balancing act.  After responding to questions, the results show the user their top three candidate matches, with specific results for each question also shown.

“VoteLocal’s point of difference is that it is the only interactive platform that specifically addresses the needs of young, undecided and first-time voters by helping them navigate the complexities of local government, ” Mr Parkin says.

As the project team points out, voter participation in local body elections has been in general decline over the past 25 years with national eligible voter turnout dropping to 41 per cent in 2013.

Mr Kane says the statistics for young voters are even more alarming with only 37 per cent of eligible 18-24 year olds voting.

 “With many not enrolled at all, the actual numbers are likely even more dire.

“VoteLocal is designed to empower young voters and help them become active civic participants by matching their personal values with mayoral candidates and engaging them with issues in their particular communities in a non-threatening, independent, bi-partisan and decidedly user-friendly environment,” he says.

College of Creative Arts Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Claire Robinson says Massey University wants to address the complex issues facing New Zealand in the 21st century. Key to this is to have people engaged in not only the conversations, but also democratic processes.

“The Design + Democracy Project has been exploring, through design, how to get young people engaged with political processes, and secondly how to make them informed confident participants in the democratic process of choosing their governing representatives.

“Informing and engaging with young people is vital in contributing to the fabric of New Zealand’s future. We believe that the issue of low voter turnout is not the sole responsibility of government or council. It is one that we all share as citizens, including designers,” Professor Robinson says.



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