Editorial: As early voting begins, can New Zealand reverse its declining voting rate?

Advance voting opened on September 11.

Advance voting opened on September 11.

EDITORIAL: Voting has begun in the 2017 general election. About 200 voting stations opened on Monday for people who wish to cast votes  before election day, September 23.

For the first time, seven of these stations are in Auckland supermarkets, so that people can exercise their democratic right at the same time as they pick up their groceries.

But a key question remains for this election – how many will bother to vote? According to the latest available Electoral Commission count, on September 5, only 89.1 percent of eligible voters had enrolled.

Nelson residents cast their votes on the first day of voting, September 11.

Nelson residents cast their votes on the first day of voting, September 11.

More will sign up before the September 22 cut-off date. The commission will be hoping that by then the enrolment rate will rise above the 91.7 per cent for the 2014 election, or even the 93.4 per cent who were on the lists in 2011, but time is running out.


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Enrolling is one thing. Getting out to cast a vote is another. Nearly 730,000 enrolled voters in the last general election did not bother. Added to those who never enrolled, possibly 1 million people didn't have their say.

To put that into perspective, a million missing voters would be just shy of the 1.13 million people who voted for the National Party, and more than the 858,000 who voted for Labour and the Greens combined in 2014.

Generally, New Zealanders have been disengaging from the political process for decades.

In the 1960s, more than 90 per cent of eligible voters could be expected to vote. We haven't seen that level of engagement for more than three decades – since the 1984 snap election, in which Labour's David Lange deposed National's Rob Muldoon.

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That year, turnout topped 93.7 per cent. By the 2011 election, it had bottomed out at 74.2 per cent. Last election, turnout was 77.9 per cent.

Labour will be hoping that its leader Jacinda Ardern will inspire a Jeremy Corbyn style "youthquake", like that which boosted Labour's share of the vote by 10 points in this year's British election.

The National Party and Bill English, meanwhile, will be hoping their supporters will respond by ditching any complacency they may feel, and stepping up to the ballot box.

But hopes for a Left-boosting "youthquake" depend largely on enrolment numbers and by last Tuesday, one third of eligible voters aged 18 to 24 still had not even signed their forms. By contrast, more than 97 per cent of people over 55 were on the roll.

Whatever your age or political stripe, voting is important. It is time for the country to decide who governs for the next three years, and what you think is important to that decision. Under MMP, your votes do matter.

This coming election will be hard fought. Labour and National are broadly level-pegging in the opinion polls, but either will probably need support from smaller parties to govern. Any lift or shift in the number turning out to the polling booths could thus have a significant impact on the election's outcome.

The more people who vote, the stronger the mandate of the incoming government. If you are not enrolled, do it now. And if you are enrolled before polling day, get out and vote.   

 - Stuff


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