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The 3 Critical Things You Need To Learn Before You Vote

Last month, on the eve of the NSW state election, one of my old high school classmates messaged me out of the blue.

She wanted my guidance on where to start when thinking about who to vote for. Like many first-time voters, she was bewildered by the whole political process and had no idea where to start.

"Who are you going to be voting for this weekend?” she asked.

"All the ad campaigns are so convincing and it just confuses me. One party saying, ‘we’re going to do this!’ and the other party saying, ‘no they’re not!’ I just stress about making the wrong decision and then not being able to do anything about it.”

Now that a federal election has been called, I know that there are young Australians around the country who are equally confused by the spin and in-your-face political advertising that are key features of Australia’s federal election campaigns.

READ MORE: IT'S ON: Scott Morrison Has Called The Election For May 18

I voted for the first time in the 2016 federal election. I had turned 18 the month before and while the idea of finally being included in Australia’s democratic process was exciting, I too was overwhelmed by the sheer noise of our political system.

Confused and stressed now, thanks. (Image: Getty)

How could I trust that the campaigns of the candidates running in my electorate were truthful?

How could I find out what their views were on the issues that mattered to me?

And how was I supposed to trust that if I elected someone, that they would follow through on their election promises?

These are questions that all young Australian voters, particularly those voting for the first time are facing during this election.

The youngest first time voters in this election were born in 2001. We belong to a generation where the only living memory of our political system is the revolving door of Prime Ministers. Cheap and dirty political tactics are the only thing we know.

To us, 'prime minister' is synonymous with 'revolving door'. (Image: AAP)

We are a generation angered by inaction on a host of political issues. From climate change to discrimination to domestic violence, we will call out injustice when we see it. And while older generations might accuse us of being ‘keyboard warriors’ or ‘entitled’ cry-babies, the reality is that we no longer see our votes as capable of enacting any real political change.

So how do we figure out how to responsibly exercise our democratic right to vote when this is the reality that we face?

I don’t think there’s any clear-cut answer but I do think that young voters particularly are often unaware that there are things that they can do to help themselves make informed decisions.

If they master these three lessons, they'll be completely set to cast their votes on May 18:

1. We can actually contact political candidates and ask them questions

It’s as simple as getting online and finding the list of candidates for our electorate. Most candidates have publicly available contact information including their email and phone number. ABC’s Vote Compass coverage has a comprehensive list of the candidates in every electorate with links to their websites, detailed information on the electorates themselves, and a quiz that shows you how much your personal views align with candidates' and parties' views . I Side With is another great online resource which allows voters to find out which political party’s views align with theirs.

READ MORE: Are Young Voters Pissed Off Enough With #Auspol To Decide The NSW Election?

Voters can and should use this information to clarify where their candidates stand on the issues that matter most to them as a voter. After all, the Member of Parliament for each electorate is directly accountable to their constituents. Communicating personally helps young voters to better understand how their vote will affect their daily life.

Oxfam Australia also has a brilliant guide on how to Make Your MP Work for You.

Do you know where they stand -- or where you stand? (Image: AAP)
2. We need to know what is actually involved in the process of voting

Believe it or not, a lot of young Australians actually finish high school without being able to tell you what each of the two ballot papers actually do. We don’t know how to vote, let alone who to vote for.

To fix this, I’ve put together a handy guide to let you know what you’re actually doing when you fill out your ballot papers on election day.

READ MORE: Don't Know How To Vote? Don't Freak Out, Read This

If you don't know how to fill it out, no problem -- follow my easy guide. (Image: AAP)
3. Voting is not just about one day

This final lesson is the most important. As young people we need to remember that the election is not about turning up for our ballot papers and democracy sausage. It is about playing our part in securing the future of our country.

The results of this election will affect us for a longer period than any other group of voters. So for us, it isn’t enough to just turn up and get our name marked off the electoral roll.

We need to take an active interest in the government, the political process and how it affects our society. We need to raise our voices when the actions of our politicians are at odds with our vision of the future. We need to continue the conversation with our elected representatives the whole way through their term. And we need to talk to and support the people in our communities when political decisions affect them.

READ MORE: Women Don't Want To Enter #Auspol. But These 4 Are Running -- Here's Why

The Youth Central Victoria website has a variety of resources to guide young people who want to be more politically active. There are so many ways to get involved to make a difference on issues that matter to us. As a starting point, here is a list of organisations that support human rights in a variety of areas. Decide what sort of action works best for you.

Whether it is volunteering, campaigning, fundraising or raising awareness on social media, we all have a responsibility to hold the government accountable.

It's really easy to get involved. (Image: Getty)

As much as I wish that I could make every voter actually care about the political future of our country, I can’t. But as the 2019 election campaign rolls on, if you are a first time voter, talk to your friends about the election. Have conversations about your confusion, your disillusionment and your hopes for the future of the country. And then turn those conversations into informed votes.

Your future depends on it.