At this stage of the election campaign, just days before polling, it’s easy to feel a sense of overkill.
It may even seem necessary to treat the incessant barrage of electoral claims, counterclaims, accusations and insults as white noise, Macbeth’s, “sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
There’s a natural inclination amidst all this propaganda, regardless of our political leanings, to simply avoid even acknowledging the increasingly desperate entreaties of our would-be parliamentary representatives. Even a temptation to say, “to hell with the lot of them, I’m totally sick and tired of all of this.”
However, it would be a real shame if our aversion to the incessant political campaigning, led any of to us to not vote. Our entitlement to vote is a precious right, not one to be given up frivolously.
There will of course always be those who have legitimate concerns with the way our political system is currently structured.
For example, voting can be especially disheartening for supporters of smaller parties that fail to meet the five percent threshold which would give them MPs in the House (there are moves to lower this threshold in the future). These supporters often have the choice of either sticking with their chosen party in the hope of building confidence in its future growth, or looking to support, at least this time, one of the bigger parties whose policies align most closely with their own.
But even for those voters, simply not voting at all, is in my view, a shameful waste of a hard-fought-for right. I know it’s a truism, but anyone who does not vote when they are entitled to, has no cause to complain about whatever result those who do (what I see as a civic duty), present them with.
Encouragement can be taken from the high numbers who are taking advantage of facilities for early voting, far ahead of the number of early voters at this stage of the 2014 election. That’s a great sign that this election is building greater momentum with New Zealanders.
The bad news however, is that the numbers of young people enrolled to vote is still relatively poor, in spite of the electoral authorities pushing hard to raise enrolments amongst the youth. And that’s not good for the future of democracy in this country.
Currently, the low youth enrolment rate seems more a problem for Labour and the Greens than for National and NZ First, whose supporters tend to be older. It must be disappointing particularly for Labour, given that the party has, in Jacinda Ardern, a potential Prime Minister aged only 37.
It may be that young people are simply not engaged, do not believe that their votes actually count, or feel confused about the process and incapable of sorting between the many party policies being pushed at them. It can be overwhelming, but with a bit of research and help from the media on understanding policies, rather than petty-politics, our young voters can be encouraged.
Perhaps, a future solution is to follow in the footsteps of our counterparts across the ditch and make voting compulsory, like it is in Australia. There seems to me to be a good case for legislating in this direction. It may seem heavy-handed, but we’re essentially a law-abiding nation, and the importance of keeping our democracy healthy through a substantial voter turnout would seem to me, to be more important than the minimal loss of individual freedom compulsory voting might cause.
For now, the good news is that there’s still time, until Friday, the day before the final day of polling, to go through the relatively simple process of enrolling at any of the many advance voting places. And while you’re there you might as well cast your vote. For a list of places to enrol and vote, check out elections.org.nz