Willie Jackson: The health of our democracy is at risk with the Electoral Commission failing voters
OPINION: The Electoral Commission needs to wake up.
What is the use of a democracy if only the middle class vote?
How can we make our society fairer and more equal if political parties only pander to a certain group of voters?
Is it any wonder that we can't solve the housing crisis that grips this nation when those without homes are in such despair with their political system that they simply throw their hands up in desperation and refuse to vote altogether?
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Right now we have an emergency with the health of our democracy. Too many young people, Maori and the poorest electorates in our largest cities are not voting.
The statistics are shocking for young voters. Thirty-five per cent of 18-24 non-Maori voters didn't vote in the 2014 election. Thirty-six per cent of 25-29-year-olds, and 31 per cent in the 30-34 age group.
When you look at Maori voting rates, it is even worse for young non-Maori voters: Forty-five per cent of 18-24 Maori voters didn't vote in the 2014 election. Forty-four per cent of 25-29-year-olds, and 38 per cent in the 30-34 age group.
And the stats for our poorest electorates in South Auckland are just as bad. Forty per cent of 18-24 voters in Mangere and Manukau East didn't vote, and 43 per cent of this age group stayed away from the polls in Manurewa.
So too many young, brown and poor people have given up and are not voting, and this is damaging our political culture.
Part of the problem is a total lack of civics taught in schools, and part of it is a natural cynicism towards a system they don't see as being for their benefit, and an Electoral Commission that seems to have given up reaching out to these groups altogether.
Speaking with many in my community, the poor fear debt collectors or state agencies using their enrolment details to hunt them down, and many of our domestic violence survivors don't want their abusers using the electoral roll to find them.
Why can't the Electoral Commission offer an easy box ticking process for those enrolling to not appear on the published roll to ease the fears of the poor and the abused?
By locking these voters out of the process, the Electoral Commission does them and our wider political system a terrible disservice. They need to listen to community groups that have reach within the young, brown and poor communities and recruit those organisations to do the outreach the Electoral Commission seems incapable of.
If the Electoral Commission isn't prepared to do its job properly, then I will. I'll be out in my community enrolling as many voters possible.
While obviously I want them voting Labour, even more important is that they actually vote, so it is imperative the Electoral Commission listen to the criticism and stop their alienation of the young, brown and poor potential voter.
* Willie Jackson is a Labour Party list candidate in this year's election. He is a former Alliance MP and broadcaster.
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