Low voter turnout | The Jackal

29 Nov 2011

Low voter turnout

The 2011 election had the lowest voter turnout since 1880.

There is no question that voter apathy is a clear indication that people are feeling disenfranchised and powerless. Increasing inequality, higher unemployment, more reliance on charity, less home ownership and many other worsening social dynamics all add to negative outcomes... low voter turnout is just another indication that our system is failing.

 This morning, Radio NZ reports:

A US expert on voter participation says the low turnout for Saturday's election reflects a global trend. 
Only 68% of those eligible to cast a ballot actually did so in the New Zealand general election on Saturday. 
Thomas Patterson is the professor of government and press at Harvard University's John F Kennedy School of Government. 
He told Morning Report that voter turnout has dropped across all advanced democracies by about 5% - 10% over the past decade, with young people taking less interest in elections.

This shouldn't be used as an excuse for New Zealand's low voter turnout. There is one main reason for a lack of participation... people are poorer and communities are weaker. Studies have shown that places with the most extensive social programs tend to be the ones with the highest turnouts. A weaker social program means less participation.

However there are other factors specific to New Zealand that has given rise to our low voter turnout. National took the vote away from prison inmates. At the time, Human rights advocate Peter Williams QC said:

"The right to vote is something we all regard as precious, it's part of the democratic society. I can't see any advantage in penalising these people further. 
"History has shown that (removing voting rights) is counteractive. Most of these people will be released into the community in due course and it's better that we take a positive attitude."
Mr Williams says one of the objectives of prison is to encourage inmates to be useful citizens and it is an admirable thing to have prisoners taking an interest in local and national politics. 
Kim Workman from the group Rethinking Crime and Punishment, says the issue of removing inmates' voting rights was looked at in 1992 and was found to be a violation of the Bill of Rights and a breach of the Electoral Act.

It's not the first time National has knowingly worked against the Bill of Rights. Last year Social Development Minister Paula Bennett even admitted that part of her welfare reforms breached the Bill of Rights Act... at the time she said it was "fair and reasonable".

It is highly undemocratic to work to remove people's right to vote and disincentives the poor from participating in politics. National know that the poor are more likely to disengage and actively work to exploit this dynamic.

Marketing consultant Noel Ferguson said:

The low turnout could be attributed to people “on the fringes” not wanting their details public. 
“It’s not just one or two odd people who are paranoid,” he says. “There’s a whole bunch of people who live in fear on a daily basis, who just don’t want their whereabouts known to anybody.” 
Mr Ferguson says people indebted to credit agencies, loan sharks or the government may be hesitant to enroll. 
He says others may fear giving their physical address due to gang connections.

This is another indication that worsening economics and social dysfunction is reducing voter turnout. How does that fit into National's so called brighter future?

Being that a low participation rate is ultimately bad for society, one would expect some sort of change to be implemented to increase participation in the democratic process. But no! John Key said yesterday:

"If you really have to force people to vote how engaged are they?"

It's not about forcing people to vote... it's about giving them incentive and the ability to vote. Two things that National has been actively undermining.