Friday, 7 November 2008

It doesn't matter so much who you vote for so long you vote

What is it about getting people to vote? It may seem reasonable to inform people about electoral process, but the intense drive to get people enrolled and to the polling booth seems at least partially misguided.

About a month ago nearly 100,000 New Zealanders under the age of 25 were not enrolled to vote in an election that happens tomorrow. And I say so what? One of the most foolish comments I hear is that taking part in elections is more important than who one votes for. This from Nigel Roberts, a political scientist no less,
Once you've got people to participate, they are more likely to participate the next time. The difficulty is snaring them in the first place.
There are so many things wrong with this concept it is difficult to know where to start.

Governing a country is no minor issue. If you are clueless as to the issues why do you have an opinion? And if you don't even really have an opinion, why cast a vote based on a trivial issue? Governments make decisions that significantly affect people for good and bad. Ruling people is a serious issue. You need to consider how policy will affect you and other people both in the short and long term. If you don't know as much as you think you need to, don't vote. The article gives several reasons why people don't vote but these are good reasons not to.
  • Most [young people] do not care, do not know enough about the process or just cannot be bothered.
  • An Electoral Commission study of young Kiwis last year found two general reactions to elections among all who were interviewed – "I'm in the dark" and "It's not on my wavelength".
  • Most said voting meant nothing to them, and some had a "fearful" relationship with politics.
  • Parties know that securing a first-time voter can result in a vote for life. Voting is habit-forming, and voting for the same party election after election is the norm rather than the exception.
If you don't care, are ignorant, it means nothing to you, or you are going to get into a habit rather than basing your decision on a valid reason, then I don't think you should vote, and encouraging other people to vote with this state of mind is plain wrong.

Some reasons given are understandable, but should not be a reason to avoid voting; they should be addressed.
  • Though they wanted to take part, they were overwhelmed by the decision-making process and intimidated by polling booths.
  • Most simply did not think their vote would make any difference, and many were disillusioned by politicians, distrusted those in power, did not believe the Government cared about them...
  • The least motivated almost held the entire system in disdain.
Voting shouldn't be made unpleasant for peripheral reasons like intimidation or inadequate access for the disabled. And it is understandable why many hold some politicians and the governmental system in low regard. Many in power are untrustworthy. These things are worth interacting with people about. Choosing not to vote because you object to all options, or even the concept of democracy is also a reasonable option.

Thinking your vote won't count is an understandable logical error.

2 other sentences are worth commenting on.
The challenge is to convince those people that voting is not only a right, but a responsibility.
It is a right in a democracy, though not an inalienable right. And it is your responsibility to vote well, not just vote. If you can't vote well one could argue it your responsibility to not vote.

I am not certain about these plans though.
And when the new school curriculum takes hold next year, New Zealand politics will be taught more frequently.
Firstly, politics is an important though peripheral subject. Literacy and numeracy remain primary, and I would rate logic as more foundational than politics. What is potentially concerning however is related to the current public schooling system having a socialist flavour. Attending a class in "politics" could very easily become indoctrination in socialist policy rather than teaching of political philosophy.

While some youth can make intelligent political decisions, I am not certain if this is the case for the majority. And there remains much immaturity and selfish motication. I mentioned above that one needs to consider how policy will affect you and other people both in the short and long term. Considering others and understanding the long term issues probably increases with age. The statistical nature of democracy means you need to consider how a demographic thinks and acts, irrespective of particular individuals in that demographic. Because of this my current thinking is that voting should be restricted by age to those older than 25, and preferably 30. This also applies to being a candidate for office.

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