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Speaker: Compulsory voting and election turnout

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  • steven crawford,

    I’m in the compulsory vote camp, with a no confidence option. And I think the no confidence option should have options within that. IE: (a) Religious non partisan. (b) They are all a bunch of wankers’, or ‘I am a wanker who’s better than them’. (c) I do not agree with MMP, and this is my protest.

    This would be an extension to the New Zealand census.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4411 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Moz,

    I’m keen on compulsory voting exactly because it negates one strategy of the powerful – discouraging voting

    Really, Moz? It also negates groups like the No Land! No House! No Vote! Campaign in South Africa. Whether you agree with them or not, most of the people involved in this campaign sincerely feel that voting lends spurious legitimacy to successive governments that have consistently failed to address the needs of the poor.

    The main issue I have with compulsory voting is that it privileges form (high turnout) over substance (motivating people to participate in politics and the political process). And as Robyn pointed out a fine (and a conviction) may mean fuck all to relatively privileged folks like your average PAS reader, but $20 might actually be a really big deal to the poor and young who should be engaged rather than coerced.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to BenWilson,

    Well an obvious idea is that disaffection could be an option on the ballot. “No confidence” or something like it. It wouldn’t change them being disaffected, but we would at least know that being disaffected is why they voted that way.

    Well,if I just draw a cock on my ballot paper rather than not turning up because I can't afford to pay the fine or would rather not end up with a court date what exactly have we learned?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Well,if I just draw a cock on my ballot paper rather than not turning up because I can’t afford to pay the fine or would rather not end up with a court date what exactly have we learned?

    I've taken that option - though my chosen image was tailored to an issue of the day - in Australia. The dickspoiler vote is something of a grand tradition there.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to Lisa Black,

    I think I’d rather see civics education in schools, though preferably not of the kind that leads to saluting the flag and singing the national anthem of a morning.

    In principle I agree, but what does the modern concept of civics education entail?

    I remember that in 4th form social studies (mid-1990s) we did lots on current events including current political events and what was happening, but not much beyond that. I did vote, but still didn’t have a genuine interest in politics beyond voting McGillicuddy Serious and spoiling my voting paper on the grounds that “they’re all idiots” until I was probably in at least my mid 20s. I’m trying to think what type of education might have gotten me seriously interested in taking notice of politics and voting for the country’s future before that, and I’m genuinely not sure.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1139 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Can we get some grown-ups in here…

    Well,if I just draw a cock on my ballot paper
    rather than not turning up …

    To paraphrase what someone said to me the other day…
    Why would somebody need to unnecessarily sexualise this discussion?
    How does that help or expand the discussion?
    For someone who presumably wants their opinions to be taken as an adult’s it seems to be a very counter-productive shtick.
    Which has a very apt rhyme…

    Just sayin’…

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7943 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lisa Black,

    It’s not that hard to get out of jury duty.

    Yes, it's more trouble than going to a booth and ticking "I don't want to vote", which is a perfectly valid choice. In the case of jury duty you either have to actually have a good reason, or tell a good lie.

    If Australia has had compulsory voting for a century, why is their politics so dysfunctional and toxic?

    It's still a pretty good place to live, though, particularly for Australians. And I don't think it's the compulsory voting that makes their politics seem toxic. They do have other problems, but this isn't one of them.

    Forcing someone that has no interest or knowledge in voting to vote (even if none-of-the-above style options are available) will merely encourage politicians and the media towards lowest-common-denominator methods aimed at simply having a name that people recognise on the paper.

    We already have this. It's actually an argument against democracy, rather than compulsory voting.

    The claimed logic of compulsory voting being an extension to the right to vote is pretty weak in this piece. Largely since this logic put forward appears somewhat circular – I assume everyone should vote therefore an obligation to participate is an extension of the right to vote.

    That's not the only reason given, but it is a reasonable question. My response is to say that exactly the same circularity applies when insist that non-compulsory voting is better, because compulsory is bad. It's not true in all cases. We are under a great many compulsions, many of them for very good reasons.

    Whether you agree with them or not, most of the people involved in this campaign sincerely feel that voting lends spurious legitimacy to successive governments that have consistently failed to address the needs of the poor.

    It's a whole lot more legitimacy than the other way. Democracy is not sufficient, but it is necessary, for good government, and the same goes for voting in a democracy.

    it privileges form (high turnout) over substance (motivating people to participate in politics and the political process).

    The non-compulsory does that too, and the reason that both do it is because there is no requirement that your vote have substance, reason or anything else. It just has to be entered correctly on the ballot paper.

    Well,if I just draw a cock on my ballot paper rather than not turning up because I can’t afford to pay the fine or would rather not end up with a court date what exactly have we learned?

    That you strongly don't want to vote, rather than just being too lazy, or too put upon by other duties, to vote. In fact it means you don't want to vote even more strongly, since you made the effort that goes well beyond a couple of ticks. It could be worth having more than one kind of refusal to vote, and actual donkey votes should be counted separately. There's a great deal to be learned about why people don't vote, and it's something that really does matter. It matters at least as much as the compulsory census data that we routinely collect, compulsorily.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Can we get some grown-ups in here…

    Lots of people do deface the ballot paper so it's a good point. There could be a useful discussion in ways to make that a choice that doesn't really stand against compulsory voting. Perhaps there could be a box provided for creative drawing, along with some crayons. It could make for a lot more confusion, though, it would need to be clear what drawing in the box meant, and how it would be different (if it was different) from drawing outside the box. Or then again, KISS, just ignore donkey votes, after counting them as such.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Moz,

    I’m keen on compulsory voting exactly because it negates one strategy of the powerful – discouraging voting. It also makes it harder for the powerful to use US-style techniques of making it hard or impossible to vote. Only providing facilities for half the electorate to vote is much harder to justify if everyone is required to do so.

    For years I have been strongly against the concept of compulsory voting, but this is the sole argument that really made me reconsider my position.

    I’m now convinced that we need to (properly) implement “compulsory voting” (EDIT: by which I actually mean “compulsory attendance at a polling place" – see below) to counteract the vote-discouraging strategies that are already being used in NZ.

    “Properly” meaning with the caveat that Steven Crawford (and others) have mentioned: an I don’t want to vote option and a none of the above option.

    I note that in some jurisdictions a majority of none of the above votes triggers another election (until an actual candidate beats the none of the above option).

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    For someone who presumably wants their opinions to be taken as an adult’s it seems to be a very counter-productive shtick.

    I rather see Ian's point -- it does detract from the logic (or not) of the argument, as far as I'm concerned...

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to David Haywood,

    I’m now convinced that we need to (properly) implement compulsory voting to counteract the vote-discouraging strategies that are already being used in NZ.

    With all due and sincere respect to both you and Moz, aren’t you elevating form over substance? If the main “vote-discouraging strategy” is well… politicians and policies people feel don’t represent their interests in a meaningful way (*), I don’t think a 100% turnout with 23% of the ballots spoiled or otherwise invalid (or 23% of the electorate being criminalized) is any more laudable than what happened on Saturday.

    {*} And my caveat there is I don’t actually know. Nobody really does, and perhaps we need to make more of an effort to find out before going for the nuclear option.

    “Properly” meaning with the caveat that Steven Crawford (and others) have mentioned: an I don’t want to vote option and a none of the above option.

    We already have both of the above, and 23% of registered voters exercised it on Saturday by not voting. As I said up thread, perhaps we should be engaging people instead of functionally making them criminals for being disengaged from politics and the political process. Or patronizing them as mindless puppets of some vast right-wing conspiracy.

    And I’d also like someone to rebut the point Robyn made near the top of the thread. What’s the stick here that won’t disproportionately affect the poor and the young who, at least anecdotally, make up a very large chunk of that missing million we hear so much about? Checking some privilege here might be a useful exercise.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Some interesting points, Craig. Alas now in middle if fencing (not the interesting sort), but will reply this evening - if someone doesn't beat me to it...

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    perhaps we should be engaging people instead of functionally making them criminals for being disengaged from politics and the political process.

    Yes please.

    Requiring compulsory voting on the grounds that about 30% of the eligible population didn’t vote (including those not enrolled) is telling 30% of the populace that they’re doing something so wrong that it should be illegal. And that number’s high enough that it doesn’t seem right to me. I’d rather spend more effort identifying why so many people are choosing not to exercise their right to have a say in who governs them, and then if possible and reasonable try to adjust things so they’re more incentivised to get engaged on their own terms.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1139 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to izogi,

    Exactly! And since I've been a financial member of a political party for almost twenty-five years, I'll put my hand up and say Team Me is part of the problem. The data don't lie, and it's a simple matter of fact that nearly a quarter of registered voters didn't vote on Saturday. (And don't even get me started on the even worse turn out for local body elections -- because I've never seen anyone complain their rates are too low.) Don't want to give anyone the impression I think that not a problem, but I'm not convinced compulsory voting would address the deeper issues here.

    That said, I'd like to thank everyone (including OPer Alex Mackenzie) for putting cogent and thoughtful arguments up in favor. You haven't changed my mind (yet), but you've made me look at the question not only deeper but from angles I'd never thought of before. That's a very good thing indeed.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Okay, caught up now. Some things.

    Voting places MUST stay open until dead on 7pm. The signage will be taken in before the doors are locked. I would hope that “I can’t get there on the day” will be mitigated by growing awareness of advance voting.

    I am still opposed to compulsory voting. I don’t want people to have the same attitude to voting as they do to jury service: that it’s an onerous and annoying requirement. The atmosphere in voting places is by and large really lovely, because everyone who’s there wants to be there. I love it that people are queuing by the time the doors open. (I also don't want to wade through dozens of deliberately spoiled ballot papers, thanks.)

    We desperately need better civics education, though. I talked to people who didn’t know what an electorate was. I don’t mean people who thought their electorate was [suburb], or who didn’t know which one they were in, but who didn’t understand the concept of an electorate. That means you have no concept of having an MP, someone whose job is to represent you. And these were the people who actually bothered coming down to vote. I spent a couple of weeks before the election telling people stuff they didn’t know – like an Ezivote card isn’t voter ID. You don’t need it. I don’t know how many people didn’t vote because they didn’t have it, but I do know many came down on the off-chance that maybe they could vote anyone, even though they thought they couldn’t. The Electoral Commission does its best, but we fail massively at educating voters on our basic systems, before they’re old enough to vote.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to izogi,

    I’d rather spend more effort identifying why so many people are choosing not to exercise their right to have a say in who governs them, and then if possible and reasonable try to adjust things so they’re more incentivised to get engaged on their own terms.

    (also in response to Craig). I think this is looking at it backwards. As a participant in democracy you have the obligation to vote, not the right. And let's be clear: by living here you are a participant in a democracy, that's not something you can opt out of. You definitely have the right to vote according to your conscience, that's crucial. But I think making people turn up and explcitly say "I want to be governed by someone else's choice" is important. The whole passive CBF approach hides just how much of a decision is being made.

    We're seeing that right now with much of the bought media echoing National's line that we have endorsed Key, Collins and Slater. Anyone stupid enough to say "I didn't vote... and so I didn't vote for them either" is lying about their decision. At best their decision was that what's been done in their name is not worth even a tiny effort to oppose. My belief is that not voting is a more active endorsement - they like what's happening and don';t see any need to change it.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1229 posts Report Reply

  • James Littlewood*,

    23% of registered voters exercised it on Saturday by not voting.

    I asked the intern how she thought she might vote. She said she wan't going to, because she didn't know enough about the parties, so didn't want to vote for the wrong one. Sound reasoning. And all Labour needs to know, right there.

    I directed her to various sources of info, which was easier this election than any previous. Then a few weeks later she was in the midst of registering and asked me, "so what's this Maori role thing about?" Try explaining that to someone with your head in the midst of a TVC pre-prod sched.

    Immediately, you realise that you have to go into the difference between electorate MPs and list MPs. Which means you have to explain MMP, 5%, coat-tails, and all.

    While it's tempting to question the intern's educators, that's not the point. For every educated, connected, motivated and well-supported intern, there must be legions of people who lack the opportunities to engage in the process. I believe the missing million is also the poorest million (does anyone have data on that ... Keith?).

    Sure, make it compulsory. But the first party that connects with the missing million - regardless of voting rules - is going to be around for a while. Either because National pull off some kind of democratic monopoly (not as stupid as it sounds) or because Labour pull off the first swing to the left since 1950.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 410 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Emma Hart,

    We desperately need better civics education, though

    Definitely. Not just the mechanics, but also why the mechanics are important.

    I don't know how to convey this to some people, but I am close to people who literally put their lives on the line for this issue. All of them know people, and often are related to people, who put their lives on the line and lost them, because that was better than not living in a democratic society. I kind of get where the grumpy old war veterans are coming from whith the "I didn't fight fascists so you could smoke pot on my lawn" thing. The idea that they would go through that and then not vote... offends them. They are more likely to organise a lynch mob to attack anti-democratic groups than to decide they'd rather stay home than vote.

    I kid you not about the lynch mob. The vietnamese communist party people in Cabramatta are very quiet and very careful to make sure they put their stall next to the police stall at festivals. People go along and harange them about how evil they are. I don't want to explain to my father in law that I could not be bothered voting because they're all just the same. I'm sure he would quite politely point out that the communist party are not very nice and by not voting against them I have offended him... well, hopefully politely.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1229 posts Report Reply

  • tussock, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Or patronizing them as mindless puppets of some vast right-wing conspiracy.

    See, no. Discouraging people from voting is science. It's been studied for over a century and people are very, very good at it. Marketing and advertising and political spin can cause people to believe all sorts of things, like that no one could possibly represent them. And it all works best on ...

    The poor.
    The young.
    The uneducated.

    And who doesn't vote? Here? Why, what do you know, it's the same people who are most vulnerable to that spin.


    As for parties who would represent them, who would offer them good things, that's much more likely to work out both ways if they actually vote, even though they're tired, it's a day off, would it even matter, I don't really like any of them, I wasn't all that fussed, someone's way ahead in the polls anyway, and all the other things that people say when they don't vote.

    And don't even get me started on the even worse turn out for local body elections -- because I've never seen anyone complain their rates are too low.

    Their rates are too low. I may not have shouted that enough, but it's difficult to even find a place to talk about local elections on the internet or anywhere else. Who are these people? Who are they in party with? Why would anyone trust that little paragraph they put in the paper? It feels like there's basically no one commenting.

    The least we could do is stick them in the real political parties they side with and hold the ballots at the same time as the general elections, on the same 3-year cycle. It'd be pretty hard to be less visible, after all.

    Since Nov 2006 • 610 posts Report Reply

  • Samuel Buckman,

    If we have a compulsory voting system, isn't the main difference that that we have a mechanism for making the decision not to vote powerful?

    Currently, if you express no confidence by not voting, you might feel good, but so do the parties you dislike, because you have just surrendered your ability to affect them. They don't give a damn about the effect on their 'legitimacy'.

    But with compulsory voting, we could have a system whereby if the 'no confidence' votes reach a certain threshold, the election has to be reset. Then those votes do have power, and so the incentives change so that parties have to care.

    So when you argue that we need to actually engage voters rather than forcing them, I would argue that that the former will naturally follow from the later.

    Auckland • Since Apr 2014 • 16 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Emma Hart,

    I don’t want people to have the same attitude to voting as they do to jury service: that it’s an onerous and annoying requirement.

    I put it to you that the reason people consider jury service that way is that the service itself is actually onerous and annoying, not because it is compulsory. Voting does not require you to sit in a room for weeks on end listening to the details of a court case, and then get sequestered to argue with 11 random strangers about the ins and outs of it, a process which could takes days.

    With voting, it’s as onerous as ticking a box, and possibly waiting in a queue if you save it up for the day. It’s about as hard as buying a packet of chewing gum.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Greg Dawson, in reply to tussock,

    Their rates are too low. I may not have shouted that enough, but it’s difficult to even find a place to talk about local elections on the internet or anywhere else.

    Believe Craig was talking about rates as in taxes :)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 294 posts Report Reply

  • Samuel Buckman,

    I mean, currently, if a party wants to push policy that is simply bad, that simply could not get popular support in a well informed electorate, all they have to do is lie and distract and generally muddy the waters so that insufficiently dogged people have no idea what the truth is, and therefore give up on politics altogether.

    There shouldn't be a way for that sort of policy to win, and if those tactics would simply cause the election to be reset, there wouldn't be.

    Auckland • Since Apr 2014 • 16 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to BenWilson,

    I put it to you that the reason people consider jury service that way is that the service itself is actually onerous and annoying

    And expensive. There's no recognition that the cost of me being away from work is more than just the immediate wages.And it's arbitrary, it amounts to "we pick a few people at random and tax them a whole heap more".

    Despite that objection I think we should do more of it. And since we have agreed to live in a capitalist system, we should recognise the value of the service juries provide by paying them properly.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1229 posts Report Reply

  • bmk, in reply to Emma Hart,

    I spent a couple of weeks before the election telling people stuff they didn’t know – like an Ezivote card isn’t voter ID. You don’t need it. I don’t know how many people didn’t vote because they didn’t have it, but I do know many came down on the off-chance that maybe they could vote anyone, even though they thought they couldn’t. The Electoral Commission does its best, but we fail massively at educating voters on our basic systems, before they’re old enough to vote.

    I wonder if the Ezivote card actually reduces turnout. Despite enrolling really early both my partner and I never got an Ezivote card. She thought this meant we couldn't vote - luckily I work in a library and so checked on the Electoral Roll and could confirm that we both were enrolled and our card must have just gotten lost in the mail (which seems somewhat unlikely I must admit).

    Also there seemed to be far less public education about how to vote, that you only need to turn up, that you can vote early etc. I too think the Electoral Commission do a great job, but I wish they'd had a bit more money to promote the voting process a bit better.

    Since Jun 2010 • 327 posts Report Reply

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