What’s in a Vote?

“..with the stroke of a pen in a box; it is one way we share power.”

What’s in a Vote?

First published in The Wanaka App on Sunday, 28th of May 2017.

Amy Pearl.

The by-elections for the Wanaka Ward and the Dunstan Constituency of the Otago Regional Council are under way and voting papers are due to arrive soon in the post. With turnout for by-elections typically as low as thirty percent, now is a good time to consider what comes with a vote.

Voter turnout for local body elections is rarely more than fifty percent, including for mayoral elections, district councils, city councils and community boards. And our General Election turnout has also continued to decline since Robert Muldoon’s snap election in 1984, when David Lange won and voter turnout was at 93.7%.This century, we’ve had five General Elections and, Helen Clark’s win in 2005 aside, voter turnout has fallen below eighty percent.

These statistics are “social indicators”, measures that describe the well-being of individuals or communities; civic freedoms are the cornerstone of a healthy political system, and having people participate in these processes increases a community’s well-being.

Here in Otago, Michael Laws won his Dunstan Constituency seat on the Otago Regional Council by just five votes. Five more people voted for Michael Laws than for his opponent. Five votes gave power and a position to one person over another.  Except in the United States, where President Trump didn’t win the popular vote, or in particularly corrupt nations, do not say that one vote does not count – in the Dunstan Constituency, it certainly did. And is for a Dunstan Constituency seat that we have one of our by-elections, with Ella Lawton and Gary Kelliher the two candidates.

A choice between candidates is a choice between courses of action, between particular visions and directions, between people with varying potential.  One question I ask when voting is, “Each candidate has the potential for what?” I always hope I’ve made the right choice, as a vote carries power. My vote is me giving power to someone, and to that person’s ambitions and aspirations. My values therefore should align with those of the candidate that best demonstrates my hopes for my nation and community’s future. We vote to potentially create a better world.By not voting, the danger is we recreate the legacies we no longer want.

A vote becomes an expression of an opinion, of ideals, of a vision and of hope; voting is a choice, and do question what have we if we have no choice. By voting, we also declare ourselves as a part of a system, our system, where power is vested in the people who freely elect representatives.

Major referendums and elections overseas have more than clearly demonstrated the importance of voting. Most recently, France escaped being led by Marine Le Pen and her National Front Party, defined by its ethno-nationalism. Voters prevented that outcome and the new French President Emmanuel Macron has now named half of his cabinet as women, a mighty Trudeau-esque move contributing to the diversity we need for working democracies.

Consider what is happening in the UK as they head into another General Election, where a potential eight million women may not vote and 57% of young people aged 18-24 didn’t vote in the 2015 General Election. The problem is having a low voter turnout doesn’t make for a fair representation of opinion or a healthy democracy.

The Brexit referendum had a higher youth turnout than for the General Election, with an estimated 64% of registered voters turning up, most voting to remain in the EU. Comparatively, 90% of over 65’s voted, and a majority voted to leave. What would have been the outcome had everyone participated?

(Since UK’s last General Election registration to vote by youth there continue to rise – and do not for a second think that it is New Zealand youth who are failing to use their vote, it’s not that simple. * ) 

“..with the stroke of a pen in a box; it is one way we share power.”

As citizens, the fundamental ability to change our political structures and the outcomes they produce is in our hands, with the stroke of a pen in a box; it is one way we share power. By voting, we participate in constructing an evolving system and the nature of our system changes with the environment we provide. It is easy to see governments and governing bodies as having increasingly limited power with corporate interests gaining a bigger foothold, but let’s continue to seek a real democracy, a truly untrodden road. Alienated citizens don’t thrive where politics aren’t inclusive, which is why we need to rekindle our interest and maintain control of a system of government which belongs to the people.

What would society look like if democracy had its best foot forward? Perhaps voters would be willing, able, informed and uncoerced at elections throughout the world. Perhaps governments would be much more diverse, saturated with the many colours and patterns humanity weaves, and perhaps woven, this rich fabric would find common ground. Ode to the potential.

I was warmed of late to read the enlivening words of Queenstown Lakes mayor Jim Boult urging voters to participate in upcoming elections. The fact that our mayor is urging our district to engage in politics is encouraging, as one of the dangers for any representative system is a disconnect between leaders and the people on the ground. If people at the top are not engaged with the communities they represent, we can expect poor outcomes for the future. I recommend you read QLDC mayor Jim Boult’s message – he talks of diversity, the importance of choice, a strong representative voice and a vote that counts. I wish all our leaders did more to support civic participation and help the people lead through exercising our fundamental rights.

As we slide into unchartered territory with water security, biodiversity stability and economic diversity being just a few of the massive issues we have at a serious crossroads, it’s important to pay attention, as the future will provide its own challenges to further generations and our participation today enacts upon the world of tomorrow. We must ask ourselves when voting, “what position do future generations inherit to enact change and live fulfilled lives?”

Kua roa kē te wā e pōti ana ētahi tāngata – some people have had the vote for a long time, and we know it’s black and white, there is no grey on election day. Let’s not lay idle, let’s continue to vote – for now.

Be sure you are registered to vote and that your information is up to date. The process couldn’t be easier: go to the Electoral Commission’s website (click on MORE below); or fill out a form at your local post shop; or free phone 0800 ENROL NOW (0800 367 656); or text 3676 with your name and address (it’s free).

First published in The Wanaka App on Sunday, 28th of May 2017. (with *supplementary text & links added here – screen shot –  Archillect on twitter @Archillect).

“..with the stroke of a pen in a box; it is one way we share power.”

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