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September 18, 2017 | by  | in Features |
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The Intricate Art of Actually Voting: Salient’s (mostly) unbiased guide to the 2017 General Election

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What (is all this election nonsense)?

So, after being harassed by massive multi-media campaigns featuring bright orange blobs, politicians’ shit-eating grins, and enough billboards to cover the outside of the Majestic Centre, it’s finally time for us New Zealanders to go to the polls for the general election. Over the last two months we’ve seen no less than three party leaders fall on their swords, the rise of Jacindamania, a #MotherOfAllScandals that totally wasn’t, and all manner of stupid gaffes from people who should have known better. If you’re a politics nerd, you’ve probably had a raging hard-on for the past month over all this electioneering.

But most of us are not politics nerds. In fact, you’re probably sick of it already and just want the whole damn thing to be over and done with. Don’t worry, it will be by Sunday morning. Unfortunately, it is this kind of apathy and loathing that has led to over a quarter of a million Kiwis aged 18 to 29 not even being registered to vote. In Wellington Central alone, only 48.49% of the estimated 15,250 voters aged 18 to 24 are properly registered, with the national average for this same group being 63.59%.

We reckon the first step in being an informed and empowered voter is knowing exactly how our voting system works. It is highly likely that you were never properly taught in school about MMP, electorates, party votes, or any of the other election buzz words people bring up so their friends don’t think they’re dumb. If you fit in that category, or are otherwise curious, then this guide is for you.

It may seem complicated, but it only takes two ticks on a piece of paper to truly make a difference.

 

How (does our voting system work)?

There are 120 seats in the House of Representatives, and they must be filled somehow. New Zealand is one of a select few countries to use the mixed member proportional (MMP) voting system. As the name suggests, it is a hybrid system, combining party list proportional representation with first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting for local representation. This means that you are actually casting two votes, not one, when you go to the polling booth: one for an electorate MP to represent the area where you live, and another for your preferred political party.

FPTP used to be the only way that MPs could be elected; a 1993 referendum forced the change to the system we use today. The country is divided into 71 electorates, 64 general and seven Māori, each being roughly the same population-wise. Under FPTP, you vote for the electorate candidate you prefer the most — whoever gets the most votes wins, and, under a purely FPTP system, the party winning the most electorate seats wins the election. Simple, right? Not quite. Elections tend to become two horse races in FPTP systems, which is why National and Labour are still the dominant political parties today. Third party candidates for the electorate vote tend to cause a “spoiler effect”; for example, in the Napier electorate at the last election, the right wing vote was split between the National and Conservative Party candidates, leading to Labour’s Stuart Nash being elected.

MMP, through inclusion of the party vote, is a means of mitigating the two-party effect of FPTP by giving smaller parties a greater chance of getting into Parliament. A party can enter Parliament even if they have not won any electorate seats, provided they receive at least 5% of the total party vote.

Before the election, most political parties submit a list to the Electoral Commission of their candidates in hierarchal order. Come the election, each party is allocated a proportion of the seats in Parliament based on the percentage of the party vote they receive. The parties initially fill their seats with their victorious electorate MPs, before allocating the remainder of their proportion to list MPs based on their list placing. If a party wins more electorates than their party vote share entitles them to, they are allowed to keep these “overhang” seats, meaning there are sometimes more than 120 MPs.

Because of MMP, parties are often forced to enter into coalition agreements with minor parties in order to form a government, with 61 seats needed for a majority.

Note that we do not directly elect the Prime Minister; it is simply by convention that the leader of the largest party in the House gets the top job.

 

Who (should I vote for)?

Before we progress any further, please ensure that you are, in fact, enrolled to vote. Even if you are, your address on the electoral roll might be incorrect, so double check to avoid any confusion at the polling station. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

As stated earlier, when voting under the MMP system you are actually casting two votes — one for an electorate MP, and another for your preferred political party. Given that Salient is such a Wellington City-centric magazine, we’re assuming you live in either the Wellington Central or Rongotai electorates, or Te Tai Tonga if you’re voting in the Māori electorate. When choosing an electorate MP, you should not only consider the party they represent but also their levels of commitment to the area they serve. A good local MP will devote much of their time away from Parliament to dealing with the concerns of their constituents, listening to them and being a true representative. For example, the Wellington Central MP should be aware that renters make up a high proportion of the constituency, and thus make housing concerns high among their priorities.

The party vote is simple enough: you should vote for a party that you feel best represents your values and interests. Each party has a manifesto published before the election outlining their policies and areas of interest. It’s a clever idea to read the manifestos of each party, especially the minor parties since their policies frequently vary wildly from those of Labour and National. If you can’t be arsed with reading, there are several tools available online for you to help you decide where your vote should go. TVNZ’s Vote Compass is probably your best bet, as it calculates your alignment with every party based on your responses to a questionnaire but does not necessarily decide for you. Give it a go — you might be surprised who you agree with!

 

When and Where (do I vote)?

Election Day is officially this Saturday, September 23, 2017. All polling stations are open from 9.00am until 7.00pm, though the busiest time is usually between 9.00am and 11.00am. Polling stations are usually set up in local schools, churches, and community centres; if you see any fundraising efforts for these, such as a sausage sizzle, be kind and give them some spare change. A full list of polling stations is available at elections.org.nz.

However, you probably won’t even have to get out of the house on election day! As part of their efforts to get 100% of students voting, VUWSA have set up an advance polling station in the Hub on Kelburn campus and at Asteron House at Pipitea (next to Mojo on Featherston Street) allowing anyone, for any reason, to cast a vote before and on Election Day. If you’re at Te Aro Campus, VUWSA is providing free rides to a voting booth on Wednesday, departing every 30 minutes between 10am-2pm. You don’t even have to be registered right now, although filling out the form will make things take a little bit longer. You literally have no excuse, so put down this magazine, gulp down the last of your coffee, and GO VOTE RIGHT FUCKING NOW!

You should also be aware that encouraging people to vote for a particular party or candidate, or doing anything which could potentially influence the outcome before 7.00pm on Election Day itself is illegal, punishable by fines up to $20,000. Don’t be a blabbermouth; keep your vote secret.

 

Why (should I even care)?

You’ve probably been told countless times by people in much higher positions of authority than you that it’s important to vote — probably enough to induce reverse psychology and make you want to avoid it altogether. The thing is, it actually is important.

Central government affects you in more ways than you could possibly imagine — whether it’s determining how much tax you’ll pay, how much funding your local school will get, or how big your student allowance will be, it all stems from decisions made in the House of Representatives. If there’s something you don’t like about how the country is being run, then you have an opportunity every three years to elect someone who will try to change that. Even in the intervening time, politicians are answerable, first and foremost, to you, the average citizen. You have the freedom to tell them what you think, and sometimes they’ll even agree with you!

There’s also a little secret that most politicians won’t tell you. On election day, your vote, no matter where you stand in society, is as equally valid as any CEO’s, union leader’s, or journalist’s vote. (Except if you’re in prison, where you can’t vote. At all. Which is bullshit.) That’s the beauty of democracy: when it’s done right, every voice is as loud as everyone else’s. Yet, the system can only work if everyone recognises its validity by actually voting; if you complain about the government but then don’t bother to influence it by voting, you are undermining the core values of our democratic society.

New Zealand has long been a world leader in voting rights, going back to the implementation of universal suffrage in 1893 — we should be proud to uphold this tradition. More than anything, you owe it to yourself. GO VOTE NOW!

 

Some Extra Facts About Voting

  • While voting isn’t compulsory in New Zealand, it is over in Australia. This has led to numerous quirks such as the “democracy sausage,” complete with guides to finding the best one.
  • The FPTP system described earlier is still used to elect the UK Parliament and the US Congress. The 2015 UK election results were bad enough for CGP Grey to call them the worst in history.
  • The Electoral College system used to elect the US president has led to four candidates who lost the popular vote being elected, the most recent being Donald Trump (because of course).
  • Because India is so huge in terms of population, its elections can take weeks or even months to complete; the 2014 elections took place on nine separate days over five weeks.
  • North Korea, of all places, has elections; although turnout is high (99.7% in 2015), candidates are selected beforehand by the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, with voters simply dropping the ballot in one of two boxes to indicate support or dissent. Unsurprisingly, candidates are usually elected with 100% of the vote.
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