More young people have enrolled to vote than at this point in 2014. But, young people are still underrepresented in choosing New Zealand’s government. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s just that none of the parties really speak to us. Or they all do, in different ways. When you drill down past the scandal and the embarrassment of adults on salaries of public money engaged in smear campaigns, all the parties seem kind of the same. Nonetheless here are a few reasons voting is important, and some ways to choose who to vote for.
Why voting is important?
In New Zealand, the legislative branch is supreme. Parliament’s laws cannot be bound by those of previous governments and the judiciary have limited scope to hold it accountable. The Bill of Rights Act 1990 protects all those good things like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right not to be subjected to cruel treatment, and the right to vote. It requires parliament create legislation “consistent with the rights and freedoms contained in the Bill of Rights”. However, courts cannot repeal, revoke or find legislation to be “in anyway invalid or ineffective” or “decline to apply any provision […] by reason only that the provision is inconsistent” with the Bill of Rights. Basically, parliament can make law how it pleases and all the courts get to do is interpret it. This means it is really important voters get it right.
Since 1996, New Zealand’s parliament has been elected using the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. Each voter has two votes: electorate and party. In your electorate vote, you get to choose a candidate that you want to represent your area (eg. Dunedin North) in parliament. With your party vote, you are voting for a party. Granted they get more than 5% of the vote (or win an electorate), the proportion of the party votes will equal the same proportion of seats in parliament. For example, in 2014 the Māori Party only got 1.32% of the party vote (below the threshold) but because they won an electorate, that party vote was counted and they got two seats in parliament.
New Zealand Māori and descendants of New Zealand Māori have the choice of enrolling on either the general roll or Māori roll. On the Māori roll you will vote for a candidate to represent you in parliament from the Māori electorate you live in, rather than the local electorate (eg. Dunedin North). Dunedin, along with the rest of the South Island and Wellington, is in the Te Tai Tonga electorate. There are a total of seven Māori electorates.
Even if voting is important, it’s hard to feel like we know enough to cast a vote. So how do we make the decision who to vote for?
Each party has different views on how New Zealand should be run. Policies are the changes a party will make to New Zealand if they are elected and is the best place to look if you are deciding who to vote for because they show each party’s vision for New Zealand.
You can find endless amounts of policy on each party’s website. If you’d rather directly compare issues, The Spinoff have summarised all the policies in this handy tool: http://policy.thespinoff.co.nz/.
If you think most of the parties seem the same, you’re right. Our two main parties, Labour and National, have very different origins and motivations, but have developed to be reasonably similar. Yes, National’s message is embedded in the economy and they’re more likely to let individuals do what they want with tax cuts. And, yes, Labour is more socially oriented toward investing in health, housing and education for the good of all. But Labour and National tend to broadly accept the changes made by previous governments, rather than doing a Donald Trump and rolling back everything the opposition did in the first couple days of being in power. Whoever is elected, New Zealanders won’t wake up the day after the election in a radically different country, which is nice.
Making decisions based on personality is a bit taboo. The reality is that, with the similarities between the parties, we also get to vote for who we want to deliver policy changes. We indirectly vote for our preferred prime minister.
Despite a change in leadership, Labour’s policy platform is still very similar to the one that they’ve campaigned on for the last nine years. Yet Labour has experienced a surge in support. Voters perhaps see a Labour Party led by Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis as a more credible prospect to make Labour policies a reality. Kelvin Davis accused Bill English of having the personality of a rock. It’s true that he can’t compete with John Key’s rock-star appeal (or is that Max). But, English has a track record as a competent Finance Minister. If you think this government is on the right track and want that to continue for the next three years, it’s a valid reason to vote.
We’re not just voting for ourselves. We are voting because this parliament’s decisions will impact New Zealand for more than just the next three years. Our families, friends and communities will be majorly impacted by the government’s decisions regardless of whether our aunty and uncle voted or not. I am voting not only for myself, but for my two younger siblings who can’t vote yet.
Is not voting ok?
In a democracy, you have the right to vote. You also have the right not to vote. But, like voting, that decision not to vote should be informed and considered. There is more than enough information about the parties and so many organisations are doing great work to explain their policies and values to us.
People in power tell young people we’re the future. But that future won’t be bright unless they make decisions with us in mind. Having our voices heard by voting is a way to make that happen.
The deadline for enrolling to vote is September 22. You can enrol and vote at any advance voting place. Advance voting will be located on campus and starts on Monday 11 September. Election day proper is on 23 September!