Why Lizzie Marvelly’s compulsory voting idea isn’t a solution

By   /   October 8, 2017  /   17 Comments

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If you chose to not engage with the political process, it’s your right to have the agency to do that. I don’t think forcing people to have their say is a positive response to voter apathy.

‘Vote or else’ isn’t particularly inspirational is it?

Ok, let’s politely ignore the irony of Lizzie eye rolling herself over hot takes on Winston with her writing a hot take on the health of our democracy

Only 78 per cent of eligible voters had a say this year. That’s nearly a quarter of us who had no input into the team that will lead our country for the next three years. That’s not good enough.

…well, hold on.

Out of estimated eligible population of 3, 569, 830 we had 3, 298, 009 enrolled and actual voter turn out after Specials (which I’m guessing to be fair to Lizzie would have come out after her deadline for this column) actually went up…

  ..and as Bernard Hickey points out, there were a lot of advances in getting young people engaged this election…

The early figures suggest that enrolment rates among the young are higher.

Thornton said in the two weeks to September 17, numbers on the electoral roll increased by 44,361, a 55 percent increase on the same two week period before the last election in 2014 when 28,629 were added to the roll.   
In that same two-week period, the number of 18-24 year olds on the roll increased by 9494, which was 43 percent higher than the 6668 who enrolled in the same period in 2014. In the 25-29 age group, it increased by 7397, which was 51 percent higher than the 4887 that enrolled in 2014.

…where I certainly agree with Lizzie is that youth disengagement in politics is dangerous, has long lasting impacts and makes social progress difficult.

I also agree that we should lower the voting age to 16 and teach civics. I would go further. Expand those civics courses to all new migrants in NZ as part of a process to gain citizenship and make the election day on a Wednesday every election and make that day a public holiday.

I’ve always believed that we need to celebrate the peaceful transfer of power  by making the election day itself a middle of the week public holiday and turn our election process into a celebration of our democracy.

Those are progressive solutions that empower and celebrate our peaceful civic co-existance with one another. Imagine the family and community traditions you could build on a mid week public holiday, where everyone goes to the Polls in the morning and then celebrate with whanau as the results come in.

Imagine the power of that as a tradition and idea to value.

Lizzie’s suggestion that what we need to solve disengagement is compulsory voting with some type of punishment and police prosecution lodged against you seems like a solution to a problem that would only generate resentment rather than whole hearted embrace.

There really are very valid reasons why people don’t vote.

Some people don’t believe they are well informed enough to make a vote. Some people don’t vote because they don’t believe in the military industrial complex hegemonic structure of neoliberal power where Political Parties are mere puppets held by the same corporate puppet master. Some fear retribution by ex partners and so don’t enrol on the electoral roll so that they can’t be traced. Some fear the prying eyes of the big state. Some believe the earth is flat.

There are a thousand different reasons why you don’t vote, and every single one of them is valid because in a liberal progressive democracy like ours, freedom and agency is the very oxygen on which that liberal progressive democracy functions.

If you chose to not engage with the political process, it’s your right to have the agency to do that. I don’t think forcing people to have their say is a positive response to voter apathy.

‘Vote or else’ isn’t particularly inspirational is it?

Lizzie holds Australia up as some sort of example of what we should be because they have compulsory voting.

But what about the quality of that compulsory voting? A ‘donkey vote’ in Australia is where the voter simply ranks 1, 2, 3, 4. 5. 6 on their first 6 choices. Sure the person has voted, but they’ve simply voted numerically in order, that’s not a fucking vote, that’s an inbuilt bias towards anyone named Aardvark.

These ‘donkey votes’ are counted as informal votes, and in the 2013 election these informal votes amounted to almost 6% of the total vote!

Compulsion made people vote, but it didn’t make the quality of that democracy any better.

Something creative like a mid week public holiday as an election day to celebrate our democracy would engage where as I think compulsion would create resentment and a democracy needs hope to prosper, not punishment for refusing to engage.


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  1. Kat says:

    We might engage more people in voting if “no confidence” was a legitimate choice.

    • Danyl Strype says:

      I too would like see “no confidence” on the ballot, as that would get all the anarchists out to the polls 😉 That said, in the current system enrolling to vote and then spoiling the ballot (or just not casting a vote) is equivalent to voting “no confidence”. Those who don’t enrol at all are more likely to be marginalized (eg in fear of their contact details being shared), or just disinterested.

    • divmno says:

      Totally agree with this – but take it a step further by also asking / recording why “no confidence”. That way we can gather and analyse WHY people are “disaffected” and possibly take steps to address this (ie: make relevant policy). If I was standing as a candidate I’d want to know what can I do to gain the vote of the “sleeping 20%”. Maybe a bit idealistic / hopeful, but if we don’t KNOW how can anyone do anything about it?

  2. Mike the Lefty says:

    We could always have write-in votes which some states in the USA allow. You can put your own name if you want, and some do.
    But seriously, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. If people won’t vote, that is their right, even if some of them annoy the hell out of us with their smug holier than thou attitude.

  3. Red Buzzard says:

    imo people should vote as part of being in this society

    it is difficult to get young people to vote the first time ( as a parent of two teenagers I found this out…it can be regarded as COOL not to vote)

    …young people need help to enroll (and this includes all first time voters including new immigrants)

    ….and young people need civics education in secondary schools beginning in the third form

    …imo young people need to be formally enrolled by the time they leave high school

    …as regards compulsory voting…I am for this as well ( although I am not sure what the penalty would be for not voting)…maybe a small coffee voucher can be given to every first time voter

    ….as regards spoiling the vote (re “A ‘donkey vote’ in Australia is where the voter simply ranks 1, 2, 3, 4. 5. 6 on their first 6 choices.”)….maybe the numbers on the voting papers should be randomised so that no political party or candidate has the same ranking number all the time on every paper ( this would probably create more difficulties counting but would be fairer)

    …once a young person is enrolled and has voted the first time they become interested in politics and take their vote very seriously ie an enthusiastic voter in subsequent Elections (in my experience with two initially reluctant teenagers)

    • Red Buzzard says:

      for young people once they get into the habit of voting it is empowering…ie their one vote counts as much as any adult’s or politician’s

      ….another thought….the idea of post- Election concerts could be a good one….with free entry passes for all voters ( ie positive reinforcement for voters)…it would mean that voters collect their free entry passes on voting

  4. Michal says:

    I am in favour of compulsory voting. But I agree that we should have a ‘no confidence’ option and/or people can write what they like on the voting form. All these votes would then be part of ‘none of you are giving me/us what we want’. One of the other things is the possibility of giving people a half day off to vote, you get paid if you have the sticker that says ‘I have voted’. I understand why people don’t vote especially those at the bottom of the heap who are not served by either of the major parties – we need to make it more attractive to them that they can say ‘you’re all useless’. We need to make this much more of a community event, encourage others to vote. Like many of my generation mid sixties, it was such a big deal we all wentdown to the school and waited outside while my parents voted. I can also remember us going down to the corner of Grange street and Opawa road to hear Norman Kirk speak.

    We must never ever have electronic voting, very dangerous I think.

  5. Michal says:

    I forgot, CIVICS IN SCHOOLS, this is a must.

  6. david says:

    You have logic on your side Martyn. But it damns my aspirations of forming a ‘None of the Above Party’

  7. roy cartland says:

    Compulsory voting would encourage more “tick-the-first-box” votes; more scaremongering among the vulnerable (young, recent immigrants, workers); and more resentment when we need less.

    We have to make people want to vote, feel that taking part is valuable. Civics in schools. And end to this ugly anti-politics streak in mainstream culture. More engagement throughout the terms, rather than just on polling day(s).

    Less crappy tv full of mindless sitcoms punctured with obnoxious ads would be a start. Less advertising all round, in fact.

  8. countryboy says:

    ” ‘Vote or else’ isn’t particularly inspirational is it?

    Neither is ‘slow down or else’ re road traffic safety.

    That traffic law, however, is designed to rein in the moron out there who can’t drive, doesn’t care about the impact their moronism is having on others on the roads we must all use or of how their plain dumbass-ness impacts on others when mum, dad and/or the kids is wiped out by a fuck-head still intent on txting while they drive with their knock knees. I do a lot of driving and typically, I’m sure I’m a better driver than most such is my arrogance, and oh my God, do I see some great stuff. Txting, leaning into the passenger footwell that makes the speeding car heading towards one look like no one’s in it, truck drivers tailgating while towing 40 ton while on their cell phones ( on that note, if you can’t talk on a phone while you drive you should be chained to your bed and never be allowed near a car yard much less buy a car to drive. )

    ” Valid reason why people don’t vote” ? Sure there are. They’re lazy, ignorant, disrespectful, fucking morons and if they can’t be bothered to vote? Then let them fuck off to some nice country without social welfare or laws and rules designed to protect the most vulnerable, ironically, like their dumb-ass selves.

    If you think voting is an option then tell that to the ghosts of Kiwi kids who gave their lives fighting fascism. There will be plenty of Kiwi bones in ditches in France. Go tell them we decided that voting should remain a casual thing. ( As National and it’s mutations in Labour etc rise to goose step over their graves now that the Natzo clan have learned how to exploit the I-don’t-care generation and look where that’s got us.)

  9. e-clectic says:

    Aardvark? No, the order is drawn by ballot. But, sure, getting the first position is obviously a big boost.

  10. Brendon says:

    Never voted
    The reason is I don’t want to encourage them

    • countryboy says:

      @ BRENDON

      Encourage who? Who, in your view, is ‘ them’?

      Do you mean politicians? The ones that’re fucking our country because the most motivated voter block is the one that profits, like a tick, off the ignorances you seem to proud of supporting?

      You’re the problem. Not any kind of solution and you’re dragging others down with you.

  11. Stuart Munro says:

    Compulsory voting, like a CGT, is an area in which we are behind Australia. Was a time, back in the day, when we were a leading country.

  12. Jack Russel says:

    Would you like a punch in the nose or poke in the eyes? You have to vote for one, because if you don’t, you can’t complain when you get a kick in the stomach.

    It’s compulsory.

  13. Andrea says:

    Once, in the long ago it went this way:
    you had your 21st party, ‘key to the door’, old enough to go to the pub, old enough to vote.

    A rite of passage.

    We don’t have those any more. How’s a kid to know when the big folk stop thinking he’s still a kid? When’s it all happen in these delightful, free, so PC days? What are the steps that must be taken beforehand to be ready – and who ensures these are fair, equal, of great quality throughout the country?

    Instead of ‘compulsory’ – make it special. A milestone. A rite and initiation. With privileges that matter. A step up from bat or bar mitzvah – or First Holy Communion, if you’re that way inclined. (We pagans do other things.)

    For those of us who would rather hide under the bed than go to a crowd event – DON’t VOTE! They’ll make you listen to a cross between a jet take-off and a kid having a supermarket meltdown if you do…