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Posts tagged voting

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Why I don’t vote

I don’t vote in national elections.

I have a reason particular to the objectivity requirements of my PR job. But my other reasons are probably similar to those driving the discomfort and dissent widely felt about modern democracy.

The main reason is that voting will undermine my objectivity. As a PR professional, my ideological prejudices can inform my advice but should never influence it. Voting would undermine my impartiality.

Fortunately though, my impartiality is never at risk. I am ambivalent about political parties. I find it remarkably easy not to side with any political Party - all cover my ideology, but none adequately.

It’s a hard attitude for many peers to understand. They tend to assume my preference must be the Party I had worked with. In this election it was the Internet Party. I got plenty of stick for that. I first saw it as a rare professional opportunity to design a new political movement / Party.

The previous electoral term I gave some advice to Labour. The term before that to Greens. Before that National. And of course, I started off my PR career working for Mike Moore when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade (and with him as PM, then Leader of the Opposition).

And over that whole period - and since I turned 18 - I have only voted twice. The experience of both those events turned me off voting.

My first vote was under the electorate-only system. I wanted to vote Labour (to express a vote against the incumbent - more on this weakness in voting in a moment). The electorate system (FPP) meant I had to place my vote with an MP I thought, from direct experience working with Labour, to be a dork (an ex-Minister). The MP was everything I dislike in politicians - out of touch, ‘intellectual’, socially awkward. I had to vote for a guy I couldn’t trust to make a decision sympathetic to the interests of most of the public. I have regretted that vote for 20 years.

A few years later I was tempted to vote again - this time for Rodney Hide’s ACT Party, under MMP. We subsequently discovered that Hide’s populist perk-busting didn’t extend to his own freedom to eat well at the state-funded trough.

The trouble with voting is that you get politicians. Many people don’t want to vote for the sort of people who fight their way into politics. They’re not really there to accurately represent the public’s desires, or they sometime cease to be.

Thomas More (Utopia) and Gore Vidal proposed that anyone who wants to go into politics should be automatically disqualified from doing so. That implies a public nomination system of people prepared to do the job, but indifferent if they do not.

I’m not enamored with a system where you can only vote people in. Those you vote for don’t appreciate the decision, and those you don’t vote for, are never really aware of it. The upshot is that politicians are, effectively, encouraged by the system, rather than discouraged.

I like the Athenian system of expulsion. Voters could scribble on broken pots the name of a politician they wanted out. The politician with most votes got exiled. There’s no system better equipped to keep a politician acutely tuned to the will of the people than one where they can get personally selected and ignominiously turfed out at any moment.

What I find weirdest about voting is that our democracy is meant to be a “representative” system. The MPs are meant to represent ‘me’, or us. Yet, the current approach is for Parties to put up their policy positions, and I am meant to select one I agree with. So I have to fit myself to them, not they to me.

This means voters have to choose the “least worst” of the Parties - the one that is least ill fitting to their view of the world. I’ll write more on this later, because the extent to which Parties don’t fit the wildly varying ideologies of people explains why there are swinging voters, non-voters, angry voters, resentful voters… and no such thing as a mandate.

In my political advice and my personal ideology I am driven by the idea of politicians matching the will of the people, not the people matching the will of politicians.

I don’t feel guilty about not voting. Even if I didn’t have the approach I take to my profession to excuse it, I still wouldn’t be guilty. Not voting is a perfectly legitimate response to the lack of options available.

Filed under don't vote no vote election 2014 elections voting

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Selfies illegal in UK poll booths

UK authorities are warning they will prosecute anyone taking a photo of themselves in polling booths in this weekends EU elections.

Most election day rules treat people as stupid automatons whose minds would be influenced by seeing a politically motivated poster, rosette or eating a cake.

Electoral reform campaigners argue that selfies in booths might encourage people to vote. They could help make voting fun and encourage others to vote.

But the one election day rule which is absolutely essential is the secret ballot.

If the people are so shallow that elections need to be egotistical entertainment, we might as well turn elections over to Simon Cowell and be done with it.

The motive for secret polls is primarily to stop your vote being successfully influenced by others. It allows you to vote as you intend without fear of reprisal. 

The point of fines for breaking secrecy laws is to overcome the value of incentives that might be offered to prove you voted as requested by someone else.

The secrecy is not really about the right of each voter though - because we could (and do) choose to tell people who we voted for. The secrecy is effectively for the country, and for the maintaining the value of everyone else’s vote.

It’s also essential because when votes are paid for, the purchaser wants proof that the vote was bought. A booth photo is the perfect proof.

Westerners safe in the comfort of a slightly longer history of secret ballots than elsewhere may sniff at the idea of inducement and corruption at the ballot box. But the result of corrupt elections is so dangerous that we cannot let this critical element be watered down by a passing fad.

I have no trouble with photos being taken anywhere - inside the electoral hall, outside - whatever. but not in the voting booth. The booth is the one place sacrosanct to democracy; the place where despite the pleadings of politicians, the frippery, snobbery, and self-aggrandisement and self-justification, each voter gets to call it for what it all is; to keep the show going, or to start again.

Filed under elections polling booths polling booth voting voting day secret ballot privacy simon cowell

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Left for poor / Right for rich

US study shows the poor are well represented in politics.
A sadly common and easy narrative in politics is that money influences legislative outcomes. It’s often peddled that the poor fare badly from legislation, and that the rich do well, because most politicians hang out with, or are, wealthy.
A Yale study of US voting patterns shows this is not true.
The study shows something far more disturbing: that politicians are very predictable in their voting.
What actually happens is that politicians of the ‘left’ vote for the poor, and right-wing politicians vote for the wealthy.
There’s also a result of far deeper importance than destroying the rich beat poor narrative. The study also helps destroy the idea that there’s actually strong differences in the political opinions of low and high income voters!
The researches compared legislative and constituent votes to show that
1) The opinions of high and low incomevoters are highly correlated; the legislator’s vote often reflects the desire of both.
2) What differences in representation by income exist, vary by legislator party. Republicans more often vote the will of their higher income over their lower income constituents; Democratic legislators do the reverse.
3) Differences in representation by income are largely explained by the correlation between constituent income and party affiliation

Fascinating… and yet I know that no politicians, particularly not those from the left, will drop the story that the poor think differently from the rich, and are not well represented in Parliament.

They won’t drop it because the story is essential to explaining the differences between the way of thinking of the political parties, and thus, they think, critical to them being elected.

Filed under poor rich politics Political Motives voting democracy wealthy representation

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The cost of a vote is $10

An intriguing study from Waikato University finds that distance to polling stations affects likelihood of voting. In fact, each kilometre from a polling station to homes reduces turnout by one percentage point.

The researches said that when the time costs of traveling to vote are $10, the national turnout falls by seven percentage points. Bizarrely, those in urban areas need even less distance before they give up the idea of voting. A $10 cost of getting to the polling station reduces turnout by 20 percentage points.

The dissuasive impact of rather small distances speaks volumes about the lack of value people put on voting.

Why do they do this? I’ll hazard a guess. The idea that your vote counts is bunk. Usually, in terms of sheer numbers, your vote doesn’t matter. People know this intuitively. They also “know” that once they’ve voted for a Government, they have little say on what happens next. And they “know” that they’re likely to be unhappy with some of the outcomes of the Government.

By placing a price as low as $10 on the ‘price’ of voting, the Waikato study proves that these factors are considerable.

The lesson is that politicians need give people reasons to vote. they need to work much harder than they think they do, and they need to focus much more on voters than their opponents.

Filed under voting voting psychology voter apathy waikato

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Voters can’t be trusted?

Law makers think the public is too fickle and shallow to be trusted to talk to each other without changing their minds. That’s the core principle behind the 1993 law preventing ‘publishing’ of political statements on election-day.

The decision by the Electoral Commission to warn people to close down internet forums has highlighted Part 6 of the Electoral Act 1993 , which governs “Interfering with or influencing voters”.

The law states that it is an offence on election day if someone “exhibits in or in view of any public place, or publishes, or distributes, or broadcasts, (i) any statement advising or intended or likely to influence any elector as to the candidate or party for whom the elector should or should not vote; or (ii) any statement advising or intended or likely to influence any elector to abstain from voting;”

A related paragraph implies that this section covers the internet. It specifically lists reasons why a “website” would be allowed to carry such statements, such as publication prior to election day. 

The law has drawn commentary because it appears to be anachronistic in light of the liveliness and ubiquity of social media. Commentators think that either the law is silly given our new ways of communicating inter-personally, or that it seems ridiculously impractical given the weight of social media chat. 

Few people see chatter over social media as “publication”. They think of social media as a means of sharing ideas they would happily vocalise if they were in physical proximity of the others they are chatting with.

Pragmatically, perhaps more than on a free speech principle, the law doesn’t stop people talking socially - ie. in the physical presence of each other - about their political preferences. It does stop someone doing it if they are “campaigning”.

Some commentators say the law raises the solemnity of election day, and provides space for voters to make their choice free of clutter.

The very idea of solemnity of voting day is ridiculous. Politics and voting is not  rarefied, restrained, and considered. It’s boisterous and contentious; as befits a nation carving out a common ideology.

Stupidly, the law has been usurped by itself. The same law that protects voters from campaigning on election day, allows people to vote early - during the campaigning period.

The real reason for the law is a political one: parties want to stop each other getting to voters on their ways to the polls. And why do they want to do that? Because they believe voters are shallow enough to be swayed by a last minute appeal. The law was made by politicians who wanted to protect the votes they might have built up through campaigning. They don’t want their opposition to wreck it all by grabbing the voter outside the election booth.

The only reason this idea worries politicians is that they believe people vote without commitment and without rationale. They think people are shallow enough to respond to cheap last minute appeals.

If that’s what politicians think about us, then the solemnity of election day is a sham.

Filed under election day voting voter pyschology voting strategy polling day election rules electoral law electoral act