Saturday, September 13, 2014

I love voting

Voting is one of my most favourite things to do. And by voting, I mean getting out of the house and going to the Voting Place to cast my vote in person. This year was no different, even though I voted early—and yet, it was very different.

In the car after I voted. Passenger's seat, btw.
We voted last Saturday, so in some ways, it was like a normal Election Day (also held on a Saturday). Apart from being two weeks early, what made it different was that it was at a place we wouldn’t normally vote (there are only a few places to cast a Early Votes, and fewer still on Saturdays), and Nigel and I went with his sister, her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend (who hadn’t voted before). We’ve never voted as a whānau before, and it was fun to do that.

Here’s the thing: While these days I’m a big ol’ softie, and even TV commercials can make me tear up, voting has always—ALWAYS—done that to me. I go, get my ballot paper, head to the booth and I look at the paper in front of me. I know that my vote is worth exactly the same as everyone else’s. The richest man in New Zealand, the anti-gay bigot, the racist, the kindly little old lady who does baking for the local school’s cake stall, the friendly local shop owner—we’re all equal in the voting booth.

So I pause and take it all in, the feeling of power, being able to help choose who will form government, and I know that the fate of every single politician on that ballot paper rests on me and thousands like me. And then, I make my marks. And my eyes tear up at the enormity of it all.

This year was different. I saw the name of my friend, Richard Hills, someone for whom I have enormous respect and admiration, since he’s one of the most genuine and positive people I’ve ever known. Those traits are rare enough in people generally, and almost unheard of among politicians. So this year, I was handed my ballot paper, I glanced at it, saw Richard's name, and teared up even before I got to the booth. That seldom happens to me.

I was proud to vote for Richard—damn proud, to be honest—and also to give my Party Vote to the New Zealand Labour Party. It felt great to have had such certainty long before I got to vote, and it felt truly awesome to feel proud of my vote. I’ve been voting for 37 years, so there have been plenty of times that wasn’t the case. This year, I really did Vote Positive!

That was a week ago. Since then, I’ve been helping with Richard’s campaign, as I talked about a bit yesterday. Today, Richard was out campaigning again (of course—he is without doubt the hardest working candidate I’ve ever seen). He was going door to door, and Tweeted this:

I have to admit, it’s one of those (very!) rare Tweets that made me tear up a bit, because how awesome is that?! A man who never voted before, but he really, really wanted to vote for Labour and Richard, and Richard was able to make that happen. Outstanding!

I believe that everyone who can vote, should vote, but I don’t judge people who don’t vote. I can’t know what’s going on in their lives, and for those who don’t vote because they simply don’t care, well, quite frankly, that’s their choice that they have to live with. I’m counted, regardless.

I’ve seen a few people commenting on social media that they don’t like Early Voting because they see Election Day as a kind of tribal thing. I get that, but I think we have to be realistic: People have a lot going on in their lives, and our goal ought to be to make it as easy to vote as possible. Like I said, I had the same experience in voting early as I would have on Election Day (though, without the stress, because I knew the results were two weeks away). My early voting, then, was the same sort of ritual as it’s always been, just earlier.

I’m not opposed to online voting, though I’m a bit dubious about whether it will actually increase turnout. We do postal voting for local government elections, and the “turnout” is shockingly low. Also, I don’t get the same emotional rush from marking a postal ballot as I do one at the voting place. I’m sure online voting would leave me similarly cold.

But it’s not about me, it’s about making it as easy as possible for the people to vote (if they want to). I’ll adapt.

So, this year was really special, more so than usual. A week later, I still feel that pride and satisfaction from voting. It’s one of my most favourite things to do, after all.


rogerogreen said...

I believe most/all the voting in Oregon is by post. I'm kind of ambivalent about it. I like to vote at the booth, though since they got rid of the manual machines, and one fills out a paper ballot as though you were taking the SATs, then slide it through the reader ,some of the magic is lost. I might as well be voting absentee. Still, I ALWAYS vote, even when my candidates are sure to lose.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Yeah, I always vote, too, even in postal voting.

The reality is, postal voting hasn't worked out so well in New Zealand: In the 2013 local elections, only about 1/3 of Auckland voters could be bothered to vote (it was a similar story throughout the country, but I mentioned Auckland's turnout

on this blog, so it was quick for me to find). I think that the main reason for that is

the ridiculously long list of unknown candidates on the ballot, people about whom we have no realistic opportunities to learn anything. I think more people would vote in parliamentary elections where there are only two choices (Party Vote and Electorate Vote), but would it be even remotely as high a turnout as the already too-low rate in the current system? I don't know, but I kind of doubt it.

Still, I think changes to voting are inevitable, and things like online voting will probably become part of the mix rather than a total replacement for in-person voting. Extending the Early Vote period has worked out really well so far—maybe online/postal voting can be another part of the mix rather than full replacements.