Thursday, December 12, 2013

I voted. Meh.

I voted, because I think it’s my duty to vote. Deliberately sitting out an election is never an option for me. I vote, even when I think the whole thing is pointless. Or stupid. Or worse.

This particular vote was on a Citizens’ Initiated Referendum on asset sales. I voted “NO” in answer to the question:
“Do you support the Government selling up to 49% of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand?"
The thing is, the government has already sold off Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power and Air New Zealand, and Solid Energy is on indefinite hold because it’s a financial basket case. That leaves only Genesis Power, which the National/Act government insists will be sold off in the first half of next year, despite weak demand and the fact that asset sales so far have brought in far less than they promised. The referendum is irrelevant to them.

All of that is beside the point, though, because Prime Minister John Key already said he’ll ignore the results of the referendum and do as he pleases. In fact, he proceeded with asset sales even after it was clear there would be a referendum, so this was always a given.

This is nothing new. No government has ever paid any attention to a citizen initiated referendum—ever—so they’re a colossal waste of time and taxpayer money: These postal referendums cost $9 million each.

To what end? We know that governments ignore these referendums, and we know they cost a lot, so why do we even have them? I don’t think we should.

When they were brought in they were intended to be a sort of safety valve to give people their say. In practice, they’ve been more like a sop, a mere salve to cool the fever of the body politic. In other words, they have been a huge fake-out, fooling people into thinking they’re being listened to when, in fact, it’s just a very expensive public opinion poll that no one but the news media and partisans on an issue pay any attention to.

There are two alternatives. First, they could be made binding. I have real problems with binding referendums and their tendency to encourage mob rule as people vote reflexively based on emotion, meaning that when their passions have cooled and reason has returned, they have to repeal their foolish rush to judgement—sin in haste and repent at leisure, and all that.

But, there is a way to make them fairer, more democratic and also harder to be abused by an inflamed mob: Require that a clear majority of eligible voters must vote in the referendum for the results to be valid—say at least 67% of all eligible voters (not just registered voters, a number which is always lower). This would also keep partisans from misrepresenting the results, as they so often do, by claiming that a high result means that most voters back them; when less than half of all eligible voters bother to vote, such a result typically means that maybe a third of eligible voters actually voted the way the partisans claim. A higher minimum turn out, the more valid the results become. For this reason, I’d be quite comfortable with an extraordinary majority turnout required, say 80% of eligible voters, for a referendum’s results to be binding (this is because a simple majority of 80% of eligible voters is still less than half of all eligible voters).

The other option is the easiest and cheapest: Abolish them altogether. This would save the taxpayer millions of dollars and avoid the acrobatics of the political posturing around referendums and their results. If governments ignore the results of a referendum, why even have one?

So, I hate these stupid, empty expensive referendums. I get sick of backers of referendums acting like they make any difference whatsoever. Give us real referendums—with strong safeguards—or abolish them altogether.

John Key has been claiming that the last general election was a de facto referendum, which is just plain silly: The majority of voters cast votes for parties that opposed asset sales, and he damn well knows that. Here’s my prediction: If the turnout is less that half of eligible voters, Key will say that a majority of voters support asset sales (it won’t mean that at all, of course, and he’ll know that, too). Actually, even if the turnout is relatively high with a high percentage voting no, he’ll still spin it to claim victory. That’s just the way he is.

Still, I absolutely oppose John Key’s asset sales so I voted no. I just wasn’t at all enthused about doing so.

We’ll have preliminary results sometime after 7pm tomorrow (the target time I 8:30pm). Official results are due to be released at or before 5pm on Tuesday, December 17.

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