My submission to the Justice and Electoral Committee on the 2011 election turn out
Survey reveals why Kiwis didn't vote
Nearly half of the people who did not vote in New Zealand's general election last year made their decision not to vote on Election Day.
The Electoral Commission has released the results of a survey today which aimed to understand people's satisfaction with the voting process and their reasons for failing to get to the polling booth.
The 2011 general election had the lowest turnout in 120 years, with a million eligible voters not casting a vote.
Voter turnout dropped from 79.5 per cent of those on the electoral rolls in 2008 to 73.8 per cent in 2012.
There is a Justice and Electoral Committee inquiry into the 2011 election. Submissions close on the 4th of May, and I'm making the following submission.
The Universal Suffrage Project
NZ believed it had achieved universal suffrage in 1893, however the 2011 result showing the worst voter turn out in 120 years demands a response beyond a review. The loss of blood on Gallipoli shores, the honor of medals for bravery and the battles against Nazism mean little in the fight for democracy if we allow participation at home to be smothered.
Voter disfranchisement demands an active Government, and the threat to our democracy from apathy should be seen as much of a threat as any of the wars we've fought for democracy. We need an active Government to look at new ideas and new ways to bring the apathetic and disillusioned to not only enroll but to vote.
Under the present Government, voter disenfranchisement has increased, leaving the situation where John Key leads the country when 68% of the enrolled electorate didn't vote for his Party. But this isn't a left wing or right wing issue, this is a NZ issue. Disenfranchised voters can't be relegated to a 'don't vote, don't complain' simplicity, this isn't a watered down consumer warranty, this is the quality of our democracy. A democracy that prided itself on being the first to expand the franchise of it's gift to women who fought long and hard to have equality.
There are 5 things the Justice and Electoral Select Committee review must look at to increase voter participation and to see the lack of voter interaction as a serious threat.
1: Lower the voting age to 16 alongside civics education classes in School to start the passion for democracy at a younger age. Taxation without representation is that most heinous of high crimes against citizens and taxing 16 and 17 year olds minus their right to say how that tax should be spent is worth expanding the franchise of democracy all on its own, minus the wider social good of connecting the next generation of voters into the responsibilities and rights of voting.
2: Allow any voter to go onto the unpublished electoral roll and make the process as easy as ticking a box. So many of our citizens are on the run from debt collectors or abusive spouses that they refuse to enroll so as to not be detected. Any NZer can go onto the unpublished roll but the Electoral Commission goes out of its way to demand all sorts of reasons for it to occur. If the end point is to make it as easy as possible for citizens to participate, streaming this process and making it as easy as a box tick is a priority.
3: Make the date of the election a Wednesday and make it a public holiday. We complain so much in this country about not having a day we can celebrate as NZers because many people feel anxious about the conflict of Waitangi Day. Why not search for that which binds us and celebrate that? Election Day should be a celebration because we are one of the few privileged nations around the planet that allows political leadership to change hands minus violence and repression. Our exercising of the right to vote peacefully is celebration in itself and making it a mid week public holiday would do more for participation rates than any single thing the Justice and Electoral Select Committee review could endorse.
4: The National Party as part of their tough on crime posturing passed law stripping prisoners of their rights to vote. Removing a prisoner incarcerated for less than 3 years their ability to vote removes any connection a prisoner might have with civil society. The argument is that prisoners who are inside for less than 3 years should be able to vote because the decision of the election will impact them one way or another once they are released within the lifetime of that Government. Stripping prisoners of their right to vote puts us on the opposite side of the European Court of Human Rights who have argued against this type of prisoner flogging. Their argument is that incarceration doesn't remove your human right to vote, and we should look to repeal such knee jerk legislation if we agree universal suffrage is a nobel endeavor.
5: Expand the civics course in schools to immigrant communities and make the course a compulsory part of becoming a NZer so that new citizens know their civic rights and responsibilities.We do our new citizens a terrible disservice by not extending any hand of welcome when they become NZers other than a certificate ceremony. How can we expect them to interact in civil society with all the autonomy citizens have if the history and cultural norms of our political establishment hasn't been explained?
The expansion of the democratic franchise should be the main focus of any progressive democracy, our worst participation rate in 120 years demands solutions that go beyond the passive nothings our major political parties are currently mouthing as suggestions.
NZ once led the world on universal suffrage, we need an upgrade and we need that upgrade now.