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2: Allow any voter to go onto the unpublished electoral roll and make the process as easy as ticking a box.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 Any NZer can go onto the unpublished roll but the Electoral Commission goes out of its way to demand all sorts of reasons for it to occur.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