There’s an election coming. Why vote?

Warren L 200x300Warren Lindberg
Chief Executive Officer
Public Health Association/ 
Kahui Hauora Tumatanui

Much concern has been expressed about the ‘missing million’ who didn’t vote in 2014 (actually 729,560 or 23.23% of the 93% of those eligible and enrolled to vote).

The angst is particularly targeted at younger citizens, generally 18-29, particularly those of Maori, Pasifika and Asian ethnicity, but a proportion of all ages did not vote, the majority under 45. Public debate about this phenomenon has tended to leap to negative judgment about the reasons for not voting: most often phrased as “didn’t bother”. Consequently, solutions proposed have tended to the punitive, ranging from making it compulsory (as in Australia), to making it easier by doing it online.

Recently Radio NZ reported that three of the five former PMs interviewed in the course of Guyon Espiner’s series on The 9th Floor, agreed with compulsion. Fortunately, more thoughtful analysis indicates that this would achieve little or even be counter-productive.

The Electoral Commission explores who votes, who doesn’t and why not after every election. The data from the 2014 election indicates that of those enrolled who didn’t then vote, 32% put a lot of thought into deciding whether to vote, with 20% deciding up to a month beforehand.

The most common reason for not voting was lack of interest (27%), followed by commitments such as work or religion (24%), and overseas or couldn’t get to a polling booth on the day (10%); 11% of non-voters said they couldn’t decide who to vote for.

The proportion of non-voters was lower in 2014 than 2011. Reasons given by those who hadn’t voted in 2011 who did then vote in 2104 were mainly that whatever barrier there had been in 2011 no longer applied, they thought it was important and that this time their vote could make a difference.

This gets me to the following conclusions: there will always be some who choose not to vote.  Whether I think that’s a dereliction of their duty or not, they have the right to decide for themselves. But at the same time there is a greater number making a considered decision not to vote after careful thought.

The decision not to vote is not a failure of citizens to do their duty, it’s a failure of our political parties, our mainstream media, and we who are the brokers between politicians and the people we serve. We must be more invested in informing citizens about the policies that matter. And we can’t wait for the formal election campaign to do it. The campaign is too short and the policy manifestos too long for busy people to absorb, analyse and reach their own conclusion that their vote will make a difference to their busy lives.

We need to be monitoring policy, raising awareness of its implications, using social media and engaging with the candidates. Trying to make people feel guilty for not voting isn’t good enough.

This blog has been contributed by a member of ComVoices

ComVoices  actively promotes the value that community sector organisations and their people, both paid and unpaid, add to New Zealand’s economic and social wellbeing through information, and political advocacy and dialogue.

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