In the wake of the local elections, a group of Hamiltonian’s from a range of backgrounds came together to discuss reasons why, and possible ways to address, what was an alarmingly low voter turnout for Hamilton city council. Just under 31% of those who were eligible, cast their vote; down from 38% in 2013. Lower than other cities around the country, and low enough to start to consider the impact on democracy.
“a system of parliamentary democracy”
a state governed under a system of democracy.plural noun: democracies“a multiparty democracy”
control of an organization or group by the majority of its members.“the intended extension of industrial democracy”
The idea of the community based group was generated during the Free Fm election special, where results of the voting came through to Free Choice hosts, candidates and supporters while “on air”. Opinions on the day were varied so a group was quickly formed to facilitate further discussion.
The group met this week to start a conversation about ways to address the low voter turnout, from ensuring people are enrolled, to making candidate choices and posting the ballots. A facebook group is available for anyone wanting to contribute to the discussion via https://www.facebook.com/groups/1222437507779554/.
Any discussion about the low turnout, needs to first consider why Hamiltonian’s aren’t voting. While seeking more information via statistics, polls and narrative – a range of explanations were put forward.
- Lack of information about what the council does
- Lack of awareness of who the candidates are / what they offer
- Inability to relate to any of the candidates
- Indifference/apathy for democracy
- Challenges of postal system
- Lack of knowledge about the voting system – from enrolling to voting
The reasons why Hamilton in particular has such a low rate, could possibly be due to a large younger, transient population – though socio-economic and education can sometimes impact on engagement too.
The overarching consensus is that information is key. Starting at school based civics classes, visits from Councillors or Hamilton city council staff and continuing with public education via relevant media. The capabilities and limitations of different media outlets were discussed, with the belief that a non-partisan group collating and sharing political information via online/social media and podcasts would be most effective. (With acknowledgement to the extensive contribution of Generation Zero, Sustainable Waikato and the HCC’s own “You have the power use it” campaign).
“senior civil servants are non-partisan and serve ministers loyally irrespective of politics”
The Auckland City Council had an effective website called http://showyourlove.co.nz/ with a set up which made each step of the voting process, including candidate choice easier.
Any discussion of why young people don’t vote invariably goes back to whether online voting would help. The group appeared divided – and more information would be needed to form a consensus to whether this was an avenue to address. Access to ballot boxes, in lieu of postal boxes was discussed. Presently a group can apply to have a ballot box, and one idea was that community events with food and entertainment could be held over the voting period; whereby entry is gained from voting. This may appeal to a demographic not currently voting.
In an attempt to make politics more interesting and therefore engaging would be to introduce a “Back Benches” style event – on a semi-regular basis to encourage involvement and promote discussion. This would be particularly beneficial for appealing to younger voters.
The public / voters need to know what “mundane” things are being achieved by Council – as non-voters in particular don’t see the relevance in voting as Council decisions don’t seem to impact on their daily life. The consensus of the group is that trying to engage people in the three months leading up to an election isn’t suffice and that a community driven initiative would be most effective long term, in promoting and informing about council issues.
Politics in the Tron is still gathering information and finalising their strategy for the next three years. They would welcome further contributions.
To follow progress or contribute to the discussion please check out www.facebook.com/politicsinthetron.