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Lost voters, lost good candidates for democratic leadership

  • October 10th, 2019

Stuff might have killed dead one theory about the reason for decay in democratic local government. The theory is that it’s a result of losing too much informed professional journalist coverage of local issues. The theory blames the internet’s destruction of the newspaper business model.

Over the past fortnight Stuff has invested in day after day of feature length in-depth coverage of Wellington local government issues. So if our voter turnout proves to be as small as currently feared, you could conclude that Stuff has tested and killed the theory that local politics just needs more dedicated media attention.

Is that a fair conclusion?

I’m testing it on myself. I found I kept postponing completing the voting paper, because the experience was so depressing last election.  I feared I’d be unable to find enough candidates about whom I know enough to cast votes worth exercising.

And so it happened. I completed my voting paper on the last possible mailing date, still feeling that it was irresponsible. I should not be choosing among candidates of whom I’ve never heard, on the basis of a couple of hundred words of banal self serving puffery.

So if others feel like that and there is a super low turn out, it may be evidence of reassuring voter wisdom. We may at least be aware that ignorant votes are wrong, and should be worthless.  I didn’t have even the barest minimum knowledge to vote responsibly on more than two or three candidates in each category.  Yet I commit hours each day to public affairs.

So I argue that non-voting is probably the honest thing for most of us. Of course few people can know personally the candidates in any election. We rely on party brands, and the assessments that seep through to us from people we think know more than us. But at local authority level that has broken down. People who would have been opinion leaders are no longer paying attention. Or if they are, they’re no longer telling us.

People have often bewailed the supposedly malign influence of parties in local government. National stopped its formal local authority activism decades ago. Labour has sacrificed much of its endorsement power by supporting too many incompetents for “diversity” reasons, and in Wellington recently, by enabling Green loons to condemn us to years more of transport chaos.

But without responsible and representative parties to vet and choose candidates, or trusted news media to review and judge them for us, we are helpless. We now have neither. So it has become a lie that voting is important. In current circumstances it is throwing blank dice into a dark barrel. No one should have to fear that their vote is rewarding the nauseating untested and unchallenged banalities that pass for campaign promises.

Yet there will be demands for crisis measures to promote voting in elections.

This is not a new problem. I’ve always considered that elite wailing over low voter turnout is just frustrated vanity. They are always calling for more to be done to pump up the turn-out. David Farrar is just one of the in-crowd on this issue. His advocacy of on-line voting is as unthinking as the rest. Why do they think high turn-out is so obviously a GOOD THING?

The reasoning seems to me to be not much deeper than normal elite vanity – the conviction that what absorbs us should absorb everyone:

  • “The proles MUST pay more attention to us and others like us. We know so much about politics. What we think and say and do is SOOO important. “
  • “They would surely take more interest if only the ghastly irreverent people were not distracting them with sport and other nonsense”
  • “Lets spend heaps advertising where the proles are, on buses, on TV. Elections are so important it doesn’t matter whether there’s evidence that any of it works. “
  • “Interrupt them, so they’re forced to pay attention – badger them with adverts in their argot. Better yet, translate our slogans into languages used by nearly no voters, then post them out to every householder, or plaster them where almost none of those ethnicities are. It will show how inclusive we are, our commitment to shop-window diversity though every thought that discomforts us is “hate speech'”
  • “I know – it must be too hard to post letters, and certainly to turn out to vote – lets make sure they can do it on their phones, between Instagram and Twitter. Who cares about voting fraud – there’s tonnes of it already with postal voting”. And finally
  • “Nothing is working – Lets make voting compulsory. They have a duty to act as if they are interested in what we, their betters, do. At least then no-one will be able to tell that they ignore us, or find our electioneering demeaning or utterly irrelevant

Now back to Stuff. Why did its coverage not inform me enough to vote? Its intention was commendable.  But I just could not force myself to read more than a few paragraph in each issue, however important the topic.  Have I become too frivolous?

Or is it not my fault? Reflecting, I can’t recall Stuff telling me much penetrating on local politicians over the past year. Mostly they reported blindingly predictable and worthy comments. In a generational shift, journalism seems rarely to ask the awkward, hard but necessary questions in the real world of resources that have to be rationed. In the real world for every spend, something or someone must miss out.  I never see the question pressed against the loons “isn’t what you are saying just worthy blather – what are you going to sacrifice to pay for that – who and what will suffer?”

Why is there so much respectful avoidance of attributing personal responsibility? Have I just forgotten some well informed and telling anecdotes. Were there articles naming and skewering the dopey passengers infesting local government, the bob-each-way ditherers, the liars, the voluble empty vessels who  have never built anything, or learned to lead, to face hard decisions where some must lose and some must gain.

Have I missed the “news” coverage.  I want to know who are the vital members of Council, the impatient and often disliked ones who get decisions made, who will take risks to ensure that vague good intentions don’t wash us all into frustrated poverty. I want to learn about which ones are so stupid other Councillors don’t bother to listen to them. Our media are not telling us.

So – I’ll stay undecided on what is most responsible for low voter turnout, though I defend it as comforting in the circumstances.  And kudos to Stuff which has tried to remedy the coverage gap this month. I doubt that incompetent democratic leadership and voter apathy or despair are just because journalists have stopped exposing them.

I think that more to blame is Parliament’s imposing participatory democracy on local government in the Local Government Act 2002. Representative democracy can attract true, experienced leaders. Participatory democracy is too attractive to losers with little better to do than listening to each other and lawyers and weirdos and malcontents.

More on that theory after we know what has been elected this time.

  • Post election comment – I should have acknowledged the coverage of former Porirua Mayor Tana’s difficulties in keeping clearly in mind the difference between public money, and private expenses. Well done Dompost, and well done Porirua voters

 

Comments

Gravatar
  • Daz
  • October 11th, 2019
  • 10:06 am

A lot of useful material here.

But that’s a pretty hyperbolic fabrication of the “elite”‘s thinking, my (and not that I consider myself in that category) alternative views are:
“The proles MUST pay more attention to us and others like us. We know so much about politics. What we think and say and do is SOOO important.“
Eligible voters should be ENCOURAGED to participate in civil society. To do so diligently they must have ACCESS to information and tools needed to participate.
“They would surely take more interest if only the ghastly irreverent people were not distracting them with sport and other nonsense”
If voters don’t UNDERSTAND the system they are less likely to participate. The extent of their lack of understanding may lead them to vote against their self-interest.
“Lets spend heaps advertising where the proles are, on buses, on TV. Elections are so important it doesn’t matter whether there’s evidence that any of it works. “
Since politicians voted themselves “heaps” for advertising, and voted on how it could be spent, I’m not sure why this is relevant.
“Interrupt them, so they’re forced to pay attention – badger them with adverts in their argot. Better yet, translate our slogans into languages used by nearly no voters, then post them out to every householder, or plaster them where almost none of those ethnicities are. It will show how inclusive we are, our commitment to shop-window diversity though every thought that discomforts us is “hate speech’”
The fact this is politicians spending other people’s money means there is no incentive for it to be effective beyond satisfying their own requirements, whatever they may be.
“I know – it must be too hard to post letters, and certainly to turn out to vote – lets make sure they can do it on their phones, between Instagram and Twitter. Who cares about voting fraud – there’s tonnes of it already with postal voting”.
Or you could take sensible steps to OFFER alternatives such as extending the ability to email or submit photos of hard copies via a website as I and 70k-odd others did in the last General Election.
And finally
“Nothing is working – Lets make voting compulsory. They have a duty to act as if they are interested in what we, their betters, do. At least then know one will be able to tell that they hate us and our electioneering demeaning, or utterly irrelevant “

This is not the end or bottom of the series, just a steady decline in voter engagement over time. Reversing this trend is in the public interest and does not require compulsion to achieve.

Gravatar
  • Daz
  • October 11th, 2019
  • 10:07 am

Wow, sorry. Those HTML tags I used sure didn’t work as expected!

Gravatar
  • Mark Wahlberg
  • October 11th, 2019
  • 7:32 pm

In this district we have a real estate agent who, as a sitting councilor, is seeking re-election. This person was recently found to have breached the real estate code of practice over the sale of a property. He was fined $3000 and in addition, his employer was fined $3000 for being a party to the fall from grace.
Inviting the candidate to explain why he believed he was worthy of a public vote of confidence, has resulted in a deathly silence.
The local newspaper didn’t appear interested in pursuing the matter and I can only put that down to the vested interests of newspapers and advertisers.
Told my vote is valuable and shouldn’t be wasted, I’ve decided to sleep with it under my pillow along with Saturday nights winning Lotto ticket.

[…] Principal Stephen Franks, writes on his blog about why voter turnout looks to be so low for this year’s local body elections including the lack of news coverage and the role of Parliament. Read it here […]

Gravatar
  • Stephen
  • October 17th, 2019
  • 4:59 pm

DAZ I do not argue that there are no steps which would increase voter participation and knowledge. Just that the most important role of democracy is to ensure that office holders can be sacked when we’ve lost confidence in them, if we are sufficiently aroused and agreed.
At any other time, high participation rates have no correlation with any measurable quality assessments of democracy, except participation rates.

Gravatar
  • Joseph
  • August 10th, 2021
  • 2:04 pm

Great article as usual. I saw new update, I am just glad that everything here is well. See you around!

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https://www.roofingrepairsauckland.kiwi/

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