Perfecting our democracy

Our democracy is far from perfect, but it’ better than most if not all alternatives. We will never get it perfect but we should do what we can to improve it.

Stuff: Emily Beausoleil and Max Rashbrooke: More direct democracy better than compulsory voting

Fears about falling voter turnout have recently sparked heated arguments on whether we should, like our Australian neighbours, have compulsory voting. But both its proponents and opponents forget that the vote is only one aspect of a healthy democracy. Low voter turnout is a sign of a much bigger problem, one we can address only by handing power back to citizens and building a different kind of democracy.

Perfecting our democracy is therefore one of the most essential tasks we face. That doesn’t mean compulsory voting, a cosmetic solution to a systemic problem. Rather than pushing people to the ballot box, we need to address the reasons they are failing to turn up under their own steam. People are turned off by an increasing distrust in MPs, a widening gap between political elites and everyday citizens, and politicians’ growing failure to represent ‘the people’ as the tentacles of money reach ever deeper into political campaigning. If we want people to turn out to vote, we need better parliamentary politics.

But, just as importantly, ordinary people need experiences of meaningful citizenship beyond Election Day, as Sirota himself hints when he says he wants “a more deliberative and inclusive political climate”. A healthy democracy and high voter turnout depend on the political culture that surrounds, informs, and supports what we do on that rare day we’re asked to cast our vote. We need ways for citizens to play a more active role in shaping the laws and policies they are subject to. We need to refine, enhance and extend channels of contact and responsiveness between citizens and their representatives. And we need to create opportunities for engagement that presume citizens are capable of learning and deliberating about issues that affect them.

I agree with a lot of that, but I don’t think a higher voter turnout is so important. I’d rather have those who want to vote or can be encouraged to vote better informed about their choices.

Not all democracy can be direct or everyday, of course: it would simply take up too much of our time. But we can still put many more decisions into the hands of citizens without straining their enthusiasm for politics.

In the end, relying so much on one vote every three years is a failure of imagination. It is also a self-fulfilling prophecy that encourages a “stay at home” relationship to political life and, ultimately, elections themselves. Politicians should ask more, not less, of us as citizens; should expect more, not less, of us when we are given the opportunity to make informed decisions. The answer is not a forced turnout on Election Day, but a concerted effort to develop a meaningful participatory culture on every other day in political life.

Compulsory voting is the wrong approach. Attracting people to vote – and this is the responsibility of parties, incumbent MPs, candidates, media and the public – is where we should be looking.



  1. NOEL

     /  May 12, 2017

    Australia may have compulsory voting but a great many either spoil there voting paper or simply tick anything to get out of there.
    ABC did a good graphic on who actually determines the Australian andGovernment at the last election and compulsory voting wasnt the reason.

  2. From another topic – Labour and other significant minor Parties – notably the Maori party – have basically become one of several National Party policy advisors via theft-of-manifesto and/or coalition techniques …

    In the weirdest sense our competitive, majoritarian (so-called) ‘democracy’ is already trending towards ‘consensual and conciliatory’ democracy, except we’re not capable of acknowledging it … especially the media who need “bleed to lead” … and we’re not capable of adapting the system to suit the trending ‘reality’…(so fixated are we on ‘Westminster Parliamentary’)

    The question becomes: What would it take to align the trending reality with a ‘system’ of democracy?

    IMHO this would take at least one generation … perhaps 25 – 30 years? … beginning with people being shown via education that things can be organised along consensual and conciliatory lines … e.g. schools … It would take a generation to ‘grow up’ under such arrangements in order to ‘trust’ politicians to work in a consensual and conciliatory way … They’d become more like ‘citizens representatives’ who would be ‘elected’ more on their ability to work cooperatively with others than their ability to debate, obfuscate, spin, deny, lie and compete …

    Ironically, the only people talking along these lines are Maori constitutionalists like the Iwi Leaders Group in Matike Mai Aotearoa Report …

    So when it happens it will go hand-in-hand with true, Constitutional power-sharing bicultural multiculturalism.

  3. Corky

     /  May 12, 2017

    There’s no need for democracy.

    1- A constitution enshrining individual rights. With a clause allowing the populace to remove a government by force should they breach any article of the constitution.

    Simple stuff….far too simple because it removes the excutives right of absolute power.

    The alternative Parti’s musings above..and weep.

    • Simple’s ‘Right’ Corky! … A state of continual coup d’etat … constant or ‘serial’ violent revolution … led by anyone who can organise (and arm) a large enough tiny minority of “the populace” …

      SMART politics …. a real advancement on our (so-called) democracy …

      One question: What would you expect the Police and Armed Forces to do under such circumstances?

      • Corky

         /  May 12, 2017

        ”Simple’s ‘Right’ Corky! … A state of continual coup d’etat … constant or ‘serial’ violent revolution … led by anyone who can organise (and arm) a large enough tiny minority of “the populace” …

        How do you work that out?

        • Corky

           /  May 12, 2017

          ‘One question: What would you expect the Police and Armed Forces to do under such circumstances?’

          Remove the government, or subversive elements in society trying to usurp the constitution.

          • Gezza

             /  May 12, 2017

            Where that happens – removing the government – it usually results in a military coup, followed by a military dictatorship or other military/security forces government & suspension of any constitution.

            • Remove the government upon whose orders Corky? Under whose authority?

              What government!? According to your original comment we don’t need and therefore don’t have a democracy …

              Where did the government come from? Where did they derive their mandate? Who forms the military and the police ….?

              This is just fucken stupid …

    • Geoffrey Palmer is advancing a Constitution which reduces Executive power …

      What happens? Righties complain it gives too much power to the ‘activist’ Judiciary …

      • Do you mean no need for democracy? Or no need for government?

        If we don’t need government, surely we don’t need a Constitution?

        Have you been reading Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard …?

        Corky … these people are psychically unwell … don’t listen to them …

  4. Auto_Immune

     /  May 12, 2017

    It (probably) would have been helpful to voting and our democracy if parliament bothered to implement the recommendations of the MMP review five or so years ago… You know the thing that invited proper public consultation by an expert panel and came up with well reasoned decisions roughly in line with respondents submissions.

    Ignoring what the people want in their democracy doesn’t help democracy.

  5. Chuck Bird

     /  May 12, 2017

    There are a few things that could improve our democracy. The simplest one would be to have a box marked “none of the above” or something similar. I know one can spoil a ballot but that does not carry the same message as the is not way of telling which are invalid because of genuine error.

    A second thing that would get people to the polls would be to have a binding referendum on legislation passed by a conscience vote before it becomes law. I hope Winston will carry through on having a binding referendum on the continuation or the racist Maori seats.

    • Gezza

       /  May 12, 2017

      Well, is that what he’s promised? That’s not what their policy says. Their intention I’ve been told by their spokeperson on Maori Affairs is to poll the Maori electorates only.

      • Chuck Bird

         /  May 13, 2017

        The policy says. “Ensure the future of the Maori seats is a decision for the people to make having examined the significant increase in representation numbers of Maori MPs under MMP.”

        I choose to accept what it says than what some anonymous says he was told by an unnamed person who you say claims NZF policy is identical to the Maori Party policy. It is in Winston interest to get rid of the Maori Party so it can not hold the balance of power. Whatever you personally think of Winston he is an astute politician. And he wants NZF to last after he retires.

        I will be attending a Family First Forum on 7 July where he and Bill English are confirmed speakers who I am sure will be questioned on that matter.

        • Gezza

           /  May 13, 2017

          It depends on who “the people” referred to are. It’s good to hear about your attending the Family First conference in July. If no one asks Winston the question of whether he means that a general referendum or a referendum of just the Maori electorates is intended, why not put the question to directly to Winston yourself? Report back on the answer?

          • Gezza

             /  May 13, 2017

            PS: I beg your pardon, I didn’t mean I was informed of this by an un-namable person. It was NZ First’s Maori Affairs spokesperson, I thought you would check their website & find out who that was – Pita Paraone.

          • Chuck Bird

             /  May 13, 2017

            I will make every effort get this question asked or be able to ask him myself.

    • What’s “none of the above” going to achieve? Empty seats in Parliament … ?

      Binding referendum would be a decidedly retrograde step … Let’s go Neanderthal … A return to the unfettered tyranny of the majority … which in our case, without compulsory voting, could actually be a slim majority of a clear minority of voters …

      The Maori seats aren’t racist. They’re a token gesture to ameliorate racism.

      • Brown

         /  May 12, 2017

        “Empty seats in Parliament”

        Like the sound of that. Maori seats can go first because they are irrelevant and racist.

        • The Maori seats are seats alotted to voters of Maori ethnicity …

          All the other seats are seats alotted to voters of Pakeha ethnicity.

          Exactly how simple is this?

          • Gezza

             /  May 12, 2017

            All the other seats are seats alotted to voters of Pakeha ethnicity.

            That’s not so PZ. I advocate retaing the Maori seats. But people of Maori ethnicity can & do win seats in General electorates.

            • Gezza

               /  May 12, 2017

              * retaining. 😕
              If you are saying only people of pakeha ethnicity vote for Maori candidates in General seats, you will realise that that is probably not so either. Not everyone of Maori ethnicity chooses to register for the Maori Roll.p

            • And, as far as I know, anyone who ‘identifies’ Maori can now register on the Maori roll …

              I wonder how many Pakeha do …?

              Okay mine’s a bit of a generalisation … and you’re splitting hairs …

              I go back to the premise: In the face of the King Movement and concerted efforts to establish a Maori Parliament, the Pakeha settler government conceded 4 Maori seats … well after the Pakeha population had overtaken the 50% mark …

              “Four seats were a fairly modest concession: on a per capita basis at that time, Māori deserved 14 to 16 members (Europeans then had 72). The arrangement was supposed to be temporary, lasting only five years.

              Most politicians expected that in due course Māori would own or rent land as individuals and the seats could be done away with. It soon became clear that this process – the individualisation of Māori land ownership – would take much longer. The experiment was extended in 1872, and in 1876 the Māori seats were established on a permanent basis.”

              Clearly we ain’t gonna perfect our democracy by imperfecting it eh!?


  6. “The State … is not in the least mystic. Man is a miracle, but the State is not. Man in his dual nature, as a phenomenon and as an existence “in itself”, belongs in both spheres of our world – the rational and the irrational – but the State [belongs] only to the world of phenomena. No secret envelops it, as it does the life of man.

    The stamp of the inscrutable, which is impressed on all living things, is absent from the State, and we can but too clearly follow its rise … up to the highest organisation of the lust for plunder in the totalitarian State.

    The State is not a thing dictated by nature, a necessary thing, but a human form of organisation, imperfect, like all the work of human hands …

    It is not realised, either, that the State cannot act at all, but that it is persons who, by a fiction, act in the name of the great abstraction, the State. Persons are, however, subject to moral laws, no matter who they are, or what position they occupy. A morally reprehensible act does not suddenly become transformed into a laudable feat when it is performed in the name of the State.”

    – Frank E Warner, ‘Future of Man’, London (1944)

  1. Perfecting our democracy – NZ Conservative Coalition