5 ways to immediately lift voter participation in NZ elections



There are a couple of well intentioned attempts this election to lift our participation rates at election time.

The problems confronting these organisations however is immense. Those under 30 in NZ grew up in a neoliberal consumer culture property bubble that replaced poverty for debt and removed any ideological compass in the individual. The neoliberal coup against a well resourced state focused on social justice and universal social service provision has created a culture where the selfie is the most dominant political currency.

Elites and the hegemony they produce are left unchallenged in such a myopic world. It is difficult bridging these issues when a young persons framing of the world is dominated by The Edge/ZM/Rock Breakfast shows and Seven Sharp.

Based on the low participation rates in front us us, here were my 5 suggestions to the Justice and Electoral Committee as to how NZ could immediately lift its participation rates…

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2: Allow any voter to go onto the unpublished electoral roll and make the process as easy as ticking a box.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 Any NZer can go onto the unpublished roll but the Electoral Commission goes out of its way to demand all sorts of reasons for it to occur.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, stream lining 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.

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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 new citizen communities and make the course a compulsory part of becoming a NZer so that new migrants 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 haven’t been explained?

These well intentioned get out the vote movements can be as enthusiastic as they like, but without a very clear set of ideas on how to do that, we are hoping a hashtag can save Democracy.


  1. I can’t fault any of those five points you’ve raised, Martyn. Of the five, I would suggest that making civics and political/social/history education is a vital part of raising awareness in our young.

    One of the first things I was taught in politics is not to ask “Will Candidate X/Party X create more jobs?”.

    The better question is “How Candidate X/Party X create more jobs?”.

    That gives people a clearer understanding of what candidates/Parties are offering.

    And it arms the youth of our future with real information and insight.

    Political candidates can’t get away with bullshit if people are educated to recognise it.

  2. Yes, I can agree with much of what you propose, but it will be too late for this election year.

    There has certainly been a negative impact by the laissez faire economic and social political attacks by the right and their generous business donors, and governments representing them, in virtually all “developed” countries, and also many so-called developing countries since the early 1980s.

    People have been increasingly brainwashed to perceive themselves primarily as “self reliant workers” and consumers, told that anything to do with the state is “negative”, and that “me first” and “me and MY immediate peers” is all that counts.

    It went hand in hand with rapid technological development, introduction of computer operated systems in all facets of life, with revolutionising communication and media, which also means, that dealing with companies or with state agencies leaves us feeling like we are generally just “numbers”.

    Put in your code, push the button, answer to pre-formulated questions in automated voice systems, do as your expected (or told), and otherwise shut up, as only your NORMED input is desired.

    No wonder so many younger people, who know little else, have lost interest, and feel they cannot have input, as their votes would not matter.

    So those above proposals are good, and must be followed up, but for this election campaign it must be about campaign, the right messages, the right channels, about reaching out, about engaging, about also having face to face meetings, whether physically or whether via on-line question and answer forums.

    I am considering doing my bit, going out and at least doing some leafleting, and perhaps a bit more, which always means having a chance to talk to some people.

    Last election I did a bit o f that, and I was shocked, how little most people, especially young students and workers, knew, what policies there are, what parties stood for and what candidates there were.

    In the end we are ALL asked to do our bit, and instead of just dropping our votes, we should consider sharing views and info, out there with others, who have no knowledge of what choices and input they may have.

  3. Here is a very basic way to stop the misconception that National are going to win and you need not bother turning up to vote.

    The Left Bloc promote their combined vote should see the election result as too close to call, opposed to the National polling of around 50-55% and Labour 30-35% where of course people get sucked it to not bothering because of the forgone conclusion factor.

    I have spoken with too many people that didn’t vote last time for this and this reason alone.

    So if Labour & the Greens along with NZF pitch a united front through a series of ‘Government in waiting’ forums around the Country, then I suggest they will win.

  4. The problem with the holiday idea is that many people may go to the beach / park / pub to make the most of a day off.
    It seems like a waste of a holiday having to go down to a voting booth half way through a day off.
    I’d have the ballots open from 6am-midnight because we don’t live in a 9-5, 40 hour week like we did decades ago.
    Also I’d have internet voting. If banks can let us shift money around on our phone, then we should be able to cast a vote via phone

    • Right, so we put the voting booths at the beach or outside the pub.

      What about mobile voting booths? Enter a bus at one end, get your forms, do the vote in the booths mid bus and then put ’em in the box before you get off at the other end.

      Needless to say the buses can be painted bright orange for visibility.

  5. They should provide FREE ENGLISH classes for migrants at all levels, not compulsory civic courses.

    Give migrants a compulsory civics course and they WONT vote for a anti-inmigration racist political party like Labour Party or NZ First.

    It is irrelevant if people vote or not, what matters is the grass root organization with the unions and progressive social forces in Aotearoa.

      • Bro. Once I called there.

        They told me that I had to pay (low cost) for the group class. It was about 4 hours per week.

        Four hours per week and I had to pay money.

        In the public universities like Auckland University and UNITEC there are english courses, it is about 20 hours per week, but they are VERY expensive courses.

        Why not free? A migrant friend of mine ( i am also a migrant) had to ask for student loans to pay those english courses. Now he has to pay back like 12,000 dollars bro.

        About 4 hours per week for a low cost is better than nothing bro. But not enough to integrate to NZ life.

        • The most effective part of the scheme is the individual tutors. Problem is that demand for them is oversaturated in Auckland. In Invercargill the tutors often had a waiting list for students. Some churches and community groups offer classes from time to time.You can teach your friend yourself if it’s important to you.

  6. Make voting compulsory ?

    If , for example , we must make payments to big judy collins’ ACC then why not make it compulsory to vote ? Then we can vote her out , scrap ACC and instead have a public health system that actually works and doesn’t turn injuries into profits .

  7. Also – properly sort out the voting system. transNational were supposed to have at least made a tweak or two to MMP after the recommendations of the Royal Commission. That would have been a start – especially dropping the coat-tails provision.
    However, we seriously have to ditch MMP in favour of a better proportional representation system (i.e. not Supplementary Member) and definitely not a return to government by electorate boundary aka FPP. Why? Because MMP has a number of anomalies that, in my opinion, make it an unsafe system.

    Do we know for sure that when people vote under MMP that the marks they make on the ballot paper actually represent their voting intentions?

    Something like 80% of the population (according to the Electoral Commission) understand that the Party Vote is the more significant vote. Elections hang on swings of a few percentage points and yet potentially 20% of voters don’t reliably know what they’re doing! And, that’s the easy one.
    If you were a Labour supporter in the last election, living in Auckland on Mt Eden Rd – your Electorate vote should have been for Labour if you were in the Mt Eden electorate but for National if you were in Epsom. What percentage of the population can grasp that? How can we have a voting system when the correct tactical vote in some electorates is completely counter-intuitive?

    Apart from that, in a number of electorates the combined Labour/Green vote exceeded that of the National candidate but the National candidate won – the left voters have to wise up.

    And, of course, the final MMP iniquity, the wasted vote. A (party) vote that goes to party that doesn’t cross the threshold effectively gets redistributed to the parties that do. In other words if you and nine of your mates vote ALCP (and it doesn’t cross the threshold – most likely) then of those ten votes, roughly 5 will go to National, 3 to Labour, 2 to the Greens (note: that doesn’t literally happen, but through MMP jiggery pokery the effect is the same).

    So if we want more people to vote, we need a simple, straightforward, intuitive proportional representation voting system (e.g. STV).

  8. 1) unpublished rolls
    2) prisoners can vote
    3) 16 year olds can vote

    4) A multi-million-dollar lottery if you vote… but for your name to go into the draw, you have to pass a test showing you actually know which policies the parties are running on.

    5) The ability to delegate your votes – ie: give your vote to someone you trust to vote in your interests.

    • 4) A multi-million-dollar lottery if you vote… but for your name to go into the draw, you have to pass a test showing you actually know which policies the parties are running on.

      And, show that the marks you’ll put on the ballot paper will actually best achieve that (so that your Electorate vote is smart and your Party vote isn’t a wasted vote.)

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