After the low voter turnout for local elections this weekend there are calls to make voting compulsory. However, I think a better approach would be to look at the reasons why people do and don’t vote, and to use this to decide what to do.
I have two suggestions why people choose not to vote
1) The process is so complicated.
It took me about 1 hour to vote. In Christchurch we had a large number of candidates in each area, to look at and read about. Also the Health Board single transferable vote is not only time consuming, this year almost 20% of votes were disallowed because people had filled it in wrong.
2) People don’t know what the candidates stand for
Some standing councillors feature more often in the media, and this can help voters decide to choose them (or sometimes not depending on the issue). However, new candidates are largely left to communicate their ideas in a couple of paragraphs in the guide which is sent out with voting papers. Quite a challenge – and one that is wasted by some.
So my vote is often largely based on what they write, and often I use a process of elimination, based on my own beliefs.
For example, if the first thing you tell me is that you are a fourth generation Cantabrian – you don’t get my vote. I want to know what you stand for and what you want to do for Christchurch, not your “pedigree”.
Also, I am not interested in how many children you have, and what they do. I’m (not) voting for you, not your children.
If you spend the whole two paragraphs raving about the one issue that bothers you, I’m not going to vote for you either. I want someone who can see the bigger picture in Christchurch and not just want to pursue their pet project. Similarly if you make statements that make me think you are only interested in representing the interests of a specific subgroup of the Christchurch population then I will not vote for you.
I’m not sure whether readers will agree with the criteria I place on judging candidates but then that is what voting is all about – making our own choices and then having them contribute to democratically elected officials. It is unfortunate that more people don’t take part in this process, but given the current process, I’m not surprised.
What we need to do is reform the election process to encourage people to vote, not threaten them to do it.