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Speaker: Compulsory voting and election turnout

141 Responses

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  • Kumara Republic,

    I'm of the view that compulsory voting is a blunt instrument, but I still think it's better and easier than a few other options, such as lecturing or scaring people into voting. In the long term, strengthening civic engagement is the solution, no matter how long and hard the road is.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5418 posts Report Reply

  • SamC,

    What are the effects on enrolment though? If people know they may get fined if they enrol, it will just encourage them not to. It's harder to get people to enrol than to check if they have voted once they're enrolled. I'm sure the ~300k people not enrolled in NZ won't get fined, even though it's compulsory to enrol. This also gives the appearance of turnout being higher than it really is. Are there stats from Australia on this?

    Since Aug 2014 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • 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.

    Forced engagement sounds, well, un-New Zealand.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2010 • 71 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    (in Australia, which has had compulsory voting for nearly a century, the fine – strictly enforced – is $20).

    ...

    In the 2011 election, non-voters were much more likely to be young, unemployed, and poor.

    A $20 fine is pocket fluff to most of us, but where does a poor person come up with that much money?

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • Matt C,

    But what if the issue is that most ppl are not voting through system disaffection. how would compulsion change that? What if the model / system of western democracy is the problem? Theres a lot of evidence over the last 40 years that this is the case. There's a high probability that compulsion isn't going to change the system. Tell me what is right about 1m people winning a mandate to govern 4m for the next 3 years in which said government can pick and choose what policies they like with no accountability to the 4m if they don't do what they said.

    AKL • Since Sep 2014 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Matt C,

    But what if the issue is that most ppl are not voting through system disaffection. how would compulsion change that?

    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.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lisa Black,

    Forced engagement sounds, well, un-New Zealand.

    We do it for juries.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    In case it's not clear, I'm in favour of compulsory voting.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • ScottY,

    Compulsory voting immediately raises turnout and in so doing goes some way to remedying the ills of unequal turnout. It promotes and enhances rather than diminishes the right to vote

    I don't see how anyone's rights can be enhanced by the state compelling people to participate in a process they have no desire to participate in. How can it be a right to participate if I have no choice? Sounds more like an obligation to me.

    If people don't want to vote, we should ask why that is, and find ways to encourage them to get involved (yes, I know, this will be difficult). It's up to our politicians to promote policies and behaviours that make people want to participate.

    Some of our politicians and political parties are so dreadful that it's no wonder so many people don't bother voting.

    West • Since Feb 2009 • 794 posts Report Reply

  • Lisa Black, in reply to BenWilson,

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

    Wellington • Since Jul 2010 • 71 posts Report Reply

  • tony j ricketts,

    There seem to me to be two hard questions:
    If Australia has had compulsory voting for a century, why is their politics so dysfunctional and toxic?
    More importantly, anyone who has read Dirty Politics will be aware that one aim of that system is to increase cynicism about politics, driving down turnout to the benefit of the right; so what chance the dominant right in NZ would ever countenance the idea?

    wellington • Since Aug 2012 • 41 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Meyer,

    Compulsory voting is an appalling idea, and Australia is certainly not a country that has had such success treating its citizens fairly or with the political process that it is an effective role model.

    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. I have never seen any compelling evidence that voting based on hoardings gives a better result for the country than voting based on understanding of policy.

    If you want people to vote, then continue making it easier to do so (e.g. the improvements to advance voting this time), spend more time educating people about policy, and give them someone actually worth voting for. [Disclaimer: I spent much time this election deciding between not voting and a spoiled ballot, and if I hadn't wanted to set an example for my child, I would probably not have voted.]

    Thankfully, the whole idea has such a natural distaste that it seems unlikely that it would ever get adopted in New Zealand.

    Ahuroa • Since Jul 2012 • 11 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

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

    However, you still have to front up, thou.
    I’ve always been challenged, and booted out by the prosecutor.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4311 posts Report Reply

  • 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.

    And the "compulsion violates rights" is near-meaningless. As a resident you have to pay taxes, obey laws, purchase licenses and permits. As a citizen it's even worse, you can be called up to serve on a jury or in the military as well. If you own land it's even worse as you have to pay rates and maintain the land to a minimum standard plus allow access by the 200+ different classes of officious wankers poking their nose into your so-called "private land". And you're worried about being forced to vote every three years? Bwahahaha.

    The fine in Australia is interesting, Even for people who don't want to vote and for whom the fine would be a joke the desire to avoid being fined is usually high. Which is all to the good. I'd like more information about the legal options for non-voting to be obvious, but Australia also has a significant problem with the complexity of its voting system that is probably more important. I don't want NZ to go down the path of using multiple variations on a complex voting system (I vote in five elections per cycle, and each uses a different voting system).

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1198 posts Report Reply

  • Graham Dunster, in reply to Lisa Black,

    It's become hard to get out of jury duty this year. Not the doddle it used to be.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2009 • 184 posts Report Reply

  • BeShakey,

    The problem in Australia isn't so much compulsory voting, it's the voting system. The current FPP system (at least for the lower house) means some swing seats have a disproportionate impact on policy - there are some policies that are pretty unpopular with the broader community, but are designed to win particular seats.

    Also, because it's an FPP system it is difficult for smaller parties to become established (easier in the upper house). So the majority of voters have (at best) a choice between two parties if they don't want to cast a vote for a party with no chance of winning the seat.

    MMP means that neither of these would be a problem in NZ if compulsory voting was introducted. If anything, the space might open up for a new party/s to emerge with policies that appeal to voters who currently aren't engaged.

    Since Oct 2008 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to BeShakey,

    the majority of voters have (at best) a choice between two parties if they don't want to cast a vote for a party with no chance of winning the seat.

    QED. The voting system is sufficiently complex that a lot of people have no idea how it works, or more commonly they know but they're wrong. At best, this is correct with the caveat that each voter gets to keep casting votes until they find an electable party. More likely it's a misstatement.

    Every single voter has the choice of multiple parties and their vote for any of those parties has a chance of ending up with that party. Often a very small chance, but some chance - as the voters for the Motoring Enthusiasts Party found out a year ago. The Greens have a seat in Melbourne that they've gained largely through educating people about how the voting system works. A task that, at least in theory, the state should do. But gee, I wonder why the two major parties don't see any reason to teach people that the voting system allows them to usefully vote for other parties?

    Preferential voting is just that. You vote for parties/candidates in order of preference, and if your first preference isn't elected your vote passes down to your second preference, where it counts as a vote just like any other. And so on, right down to the bottom of the list if necessary, before likely lodging with one of the three or four large parties (National, Labor, Liberal, LiberalNationalParty). You really can start with "The Bill and Ben Party" and work your way through to "The Wizard Party" before putting Labor ahead of Liberal and chances are you just voted Labor.

    But it means that in theory at least, there's no harm at all in you saying "hey, it'd be great if The Bill And Ben candidate got in, I'll give them my first preference". The caveat is that there's cash for your first preference if they get over a threshold of votes, so every party really, really wants your first preference. Which is another (big) incentive for them to ... allow people to think that the first preference is all that matters.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1198 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Brown,

    I think we should have it. Incidentally in Oz, while the initial fine is listed as $20, failure to pay can escalate to $170 plus costs plus a criminal conviction. That could be quite motivating.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2013 • 136 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Curtis, in reply to Martin Brown,

    You forget that the compulsion in Australia extends down to the bottom of the food chain, local councils too.
    Plus there is state elections and when I was there the councils voted one third of Councillors every year.
    And the Senate, until recently was at a different date to the House of Representatives

    Plus it was all ways the preferential voting system where <i> every</i> candidate had to be ranked.
    Because they have had it for about a century they can get away with it, NZ ?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 314 posts Report Reply

  • Richard_Elwin,

    Not only is there no right not to vote, but even if there were, a compulsory system that provides for abstentions would not violate it.

    It'd be a pretty hard argument to make that the Democratic and Civil Rights sections of the Bill of Rights don't imply a right to not participate in a political process you don't want to be involved in.

    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.

    Since Jan 2014 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin,

    I used to be strongly against compulsory voting for reasons outlined by other people here already but I more and more struggle to understand how we are meant to address the general, Western decline in voting turnout/participation.

    Has any comparable country had such a problem recently and addressed / reversed the decline without recourse to compulsory voting?

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 1019 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    This is only marginally on topic, but:
    On Saturday I asked my lovely dairy man if he'd been able to vote. He wasn't sure he was going to get to, because he didn't close till 7pm. I went over about 4pm to say I'd mind the shop for him if he wanted to nip down the road to the school, but he said his wife had been able to duck out of work for a bit and was going to come and hold the fort for him.
    On Sunday I asked him if that had worked out, and he said yes, but that his wife hadn't been able to vote. On her way back to work she'd gone to a polling booth down in Lyall Bay, and although all the signs were up, the doors were locked. She'd knocked, but noone answered.
    Does anyone know what the rules are about polling booths staying open till 7pm?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Moz,

    the "compulsion violates rights" is near-meaningless. As a resident you have to pay taxes, obey laws, purchase licenses and permits. As a citizen it's even worse, you can be called up to serve on a jury or in the military as well. If you own land it's even worse as you have to pay rates and maintain the land to a minimum standard plus allow access by the 200+ different classes of officious wankers poking their nose into your so-called "private land". And you're worried about being forced to vote every three years? Bwahahaha.

    This. I'm all for it.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Soon Lee,

    I was undecided about compulsory voting but have changed my mind. I now think enrolling & voting should be compulsory. But there should also be some sort of "no confidence" option rather than having to spoil your vote to signify dissatisfaction (I think it will be good to get some numbers on this).

    It will change voting into an opt-out system: the default scenario is that everyone is enrolled & expected to vote . You can choose to opt-out but it comes with a small financial penalty, and you'll be making an active decision to opt-out.

    Auckland • Since Apr 2013 • 141 posts Report Reply

  • Dismal Soyanz, in reply to Richard_Elwin,

    don’t imply a right to not participate in a political process you don’t want to be involved in.

    Over and above the analogy of taxes – which you have no right not to pay (and funnily enough the same people who say this is an infringement on their rights are also the same crowd who believe tax is theft) – the idea of not wanting to participate is equivalent to giving up your democratic rights in every meaningful way. If you don’t want to participate even when there are “no confidence” or “don’t care” options on the ballot paper, then you don’t even want to send that signal to the rest of society. In other words, you really don’t care what happens. And you then want to complain about your rights?

    ETA: The thing that sells compulsory voting to me is the that it sets up an expectation that every voter will cast a ballot and that will eventually form part of the the collective psyche so that kids turning 18 will actually see voting as the default setting. If you want to opt-out, there are ways and means of expressing your opinion with the ballot paper.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2010 • 310 posts Report Reply

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