All votes equal


I don’t expect everyone to share my political views and respect others who have the courage of their convictions, whether or not they agree with mine.

What frustrates me is people who vote without understanding what they’re doing.

It’s a frustration shared by Paul Henry:

. . . “The problem with the democracy is that everyone’s vote counts the same as everyone else. I think it is diabolical that someone who doesn’t give a shit about politics, has no interest in it, doesn’t care, can go into the polling booth and nullify my vote through their own pig-ignorant stupidity,” he said.

If Henry ran the country (his 1999 foray into politics for the National Party in Wairarapa left him unelected) there would be a test at the beginning of the ballot paper to determine a voter’s intellectual capability to participate in democracy. A three-question, multi-choice quiz to establish a minimum knowledge of the system.

“And if you can’t get those three questions right, there is no way you can make an even vaguely intelligent independent decision on who should form the next government. It would be nice if people could upskill,” he said. . . .

I’ve often said that people should have a comprehension test before they’re allowed to vote – but only tongue in cheek.

If you’re free to vote you’re free to vote in ignorance or to not vote at all.

But could – and should – more be done to ensure people are better informed and engaged so that they can vote more intelligently?

I don’t know of any data on why people vote the way they do but Statistics NZ has found that the most common reason for not voting at all was they didn’t get round to it, forgot or weren’t interested.

Non-voters in 2008 and 2011 general elections: Findings from New Zealand General Social Survey shows 21 percent of people who didn’t vote in the 2011 General Election ‘didn’t get round to it, forgot or weren’t interested’.

A further 7 percent didn’t vote because they felt their vote wouldn’t make a difference. It’s interesting to see that this group has nearly doubled since the 2008 General Election, according to NZGSS manager, Philip Walker.

Age, income, and migrant status also made a difference to voting behaviour. Younger people were less likely to vote – 42 percent of people aged between 18–24 years said they didn’t vote in the 2011 General Election.

“People who feel they don’t have enough money to meet their daily needs are also less likely to vote,” Mr Walker said.

Whether people are migrants, and how long they have been in New Zealand also made a difference to their voting behaviour. Recent migrants had low voting rates, while migrants who had been in New Zealand for longer periods had very similar voting behaviour as people born in New Zealand.

The report is welcomed by the Electoral Commission, which is concerned about New Zealand’s declining voter participation.

“Declining voter engagement in our Parliamentary democracy is a problem that affects all of us and it will take a national effort to turn this worrying trend around,” Robert Peden, Chief Electoral Officer, said. “This research will further increase understanding of the problem, which is a necessary step in finding solutions.”

It’s not just a matter of quantity but quality.

We should be concerned not just about how many people vote but that they do so in an informed manner with a good understanding of what they’re doing.

I am sure one of the reasons people are disenchanted by politics and politicians is that they don’t understand them.

Two yes votes


Voting papers for the politicians’ initiated referendum with the misleading question had to be in the post by yesterday to count.

“To have your say in the referendum you need to get your voting papers in the post by this Thursday 12 December,” says Robert Peden, Chief Electoral Officer. . .

As of Friday 6 December 1,126,448 voting papers had been received by the Returning Officer.

Ours weren’t among those received last week.

The waste of money involved and the subversion of what’s supposed to be a citizen’s initiated process by Green and Labour politicians who said the last election was a referendum on the issue was putting us off.

But the feeling that the right to vote come with the responsibility to do so spurred us on and two yes votes went back.

Preliminary results will be announced this evening.

nov 13 007

Not how but who and why


Electronic voting is one of the suggestions for improving participation in local body elections.

Vaughan Davis cautions against that:

. . . There is a danger – and by this I mean both a danger to democracy and a danger that we will waste public money – of rushing to the electronic solution without really understanding what’s happening here. People vote when they understand the issues and the candidates, when there’s a close contest and when they believe their vote will make a difference. 

The Electoral Commission looked at this in detail in their post mortem of the 2011 general election. Low trust in politicians, one-sided electoral races and a general lack of interest in politics were the main factors in choosing not to vote and there’s no reason to suspect local body elections would be any different.

Process and technology didn’t rate as major barriers and chief electoral officer Robert Peden indicated at the time that overseas trials showed online voting had not improved turnout. 

It’s easy to see, though, why the idea of electronic voting has the support it does. For the voter (well, the woulda-shoulda-coulda-voter) it’s a convenient excuse. “Of course I would have voted online! Definitely!” It’s also far easier to live with than accepting they don’t care enough about their communities to have a say every three years in who runs them. And for local bodies (or central government) building a website is a far more tangible and tickable box than, well, motivating the electorate. . .

Electronic voting would be easier than postal voting. There’d be no danger of losing your ballot papers nor the trouble some people appear to have in finding a post box to return them.

But postal voting takes away the sense of community you get in going to a polling booth on polling day, or casting a special vote beforehand and that would be just as much an issue with electronic voting.

However, the nub of the problem isn’t how we vote but why we vote, or don’t.

Voting requires engagement and interest in local bodies and knowledge of the people and issues.

Too few of us have that with councils and councillors.

Electronic communication and social media could help address that.

But electronic voting without engagement won’t.

Councils should be working on a strategy now to connect with and engage the people whose rates they spend and whose votes they’ll want in three years time.

Without that engagement the method making voting easier won’t make it any more likely that people will do it.

Civics education inadequate – Electoral Commission


The Electoral Commissions say civics education is inadequate.

As it begins to prepare for the 2014 general election, the commission is talking to the Ministry of Education about providing increased, and better, lessons on citizenship, the law and the government. . .

Chief Electoral Officer Robert Peden says Canterbury’s Student Volunteer Army shows that young people care, they just don’t see the parliamentary process as relevant.

An improved “civics” education will teach young people how to use the system to have their voices heard, he says.

An understanding of citizenship, law and government are fundamental to feeling part of and participating in society.

The school curriculum is already very full, some would say too full. But the addition of civics education should be encouraged, even if it means something else has to go.

Taking democracy seriously


Radio New Zealand reports that voting irregularities, uncovered in the judicial recount in Waitakere, are not uncommon:

Chief Electoral Officer Robert Peden says un-enrolled voters account for about 10% of all special votes and this occurs in every electorate in every election.

Mr Peden also says duplicate votes are also unfortunately quite common, with 480 dual votes recorded in the 2008 elections.

He says 58 people have been referred to the police.

It wouldn’t be difficult to vote more than once, or to use someone else’s easy-vote card and vote in their place. But this report shows such actions are taken seriously, as they should be.

Our consistent reputation for lack of corruption doesn’t mean there’s no wrong-doing, it means that when there is those who do it are held to account.

Greens out before race starts


The Green Party candidate is out of the race for the Botany by-election before it’s started.

The Greens announced in a press release late last night that it had selected former staffer Richard Leckinger to stand.

Chief Electoral Officer Robert Peden confirmed that the Green candidate had not made it.

“A completed nomination form from the Green Party was not received before the legal deadline of noon today and therefore the Electoral Commission could not accept the nomination,” he said.

Mr Leckinger was upset.

“Gutted. In one word gutted. My heart is broken for the Green Party folk in Botany who had pulled all this together. I am gutted, it’s a real disappointment that I got stuck in traffic on Ti Rakau Drive.”

He told NZPA he showed up at the registrar’s office at 10am but the official discovered one of his nominees had, by moving a couple of blocks, moved to the Hunua electorate rather than Botany. Mr Leckinger dashed back to Botany to get another signature but did not make it back on time.

“I was two minutes too late.”

Misfortune or carelessness?  More of the former than the latter but a well organised party and its candidate ought to know the rules and meet all requirements well before a legal deadline.

Record turnout for 08 election?


Chief electoral officer Robert Peden said more than 200,000 advance votes were cast, a 30% increase on the advance tally in 2005 when 80% of those eligible to vote did so.

“One of the questions would be whether people are choosing to advance vote rather than vote on election day, or whether it is just part of a large turnout,” he said.

Counting of the advance votes started at 3pm and the first results are expected at 8.30 this evening.

Among those who cast an early vote was Iris O’Connell, who turns 100 today.

Mrs O’Connell, who lives at the Little Sisters of the Poor in Brockville, said yesterday she could not recall how many times she had voted, but said she always had exercised the right from the age of 21 (the then age of eligibility).

On the day of her birth, newspapers reported demonstrations by suffragettes in London.

Universal suffrage was not achieved in Britain until 20 years later. New Zealand had universal suffrage from 1893.

How to lose votes


Matthew Hooton and Keeping Stock have rightly highlighted the hypocricy of Labour evading the Electoral Finance Act and the need to spend their own money with their deliveries of this tax payer funded brochure.

The Herald had a story on this a couple of weeks ago which said:

Chief Electoral Officer Robert Peden said he had assessed the booklet, and “it does not contain words or graphics that could be reasonably regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote, or not to vote, for a candidate”.

Mr Peden said it was part of each MP’s “constituency function” rather than his or her candidacy in the upcoming election.

The rest of us may find that difficult to understand because at any time such things are profile raisers for MPs,  this close to the election its  political intent increases and the name and photo of an MP looks like words and graphics.

Kiwiblog  says this sort of thing should be banned for 90 days before an election. I agree, although the impact of this particular mail-out on Labour’s vote may not be positive.

A friend got a letter from her MP with the brochure which started by talking about older people.

She has only just turned 56 so was affronted at the suggestion she was in need of such advice and said that the combination of wasting tax payers’ money and the insult over her age were two good reasons to vote for neither the party nor its candidate.

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