20 Sep 2017

Why I was an idiot for not voting last election

3:10 pm on 20 September 2017

Three years is a long time.


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Photo: Image: The Wireless/Luke McPake


I have a flatmate who probably won’t vote. He says he might, but it’s not looking good.

A capital gains tax could persuade him, but Labour’s stiff arm in that direction sent him back to zero on the engagement scale.

He didn’t vote in 2014, either. I asked why. He told me he didn’t think his vote mattered.

“There’s so little difference between the parties in this country,” he said. “I just don’t think they can significantly change anything.”

Labour’s backtracking on taxes proved that, he pointed out.

I told him he was an idiot and that I too didn’t vote in 2014. I’ve regretted it more and more over the past three years. “That makes me an idiot too.”

I’ve never been able to settle on a good excuse.

It wasn’t because I thought one vote didn’t matter - I am privileged enough to know that not voting hurts our democracy.

Looking back, I suppose I thought I was rebelling against Key, Cunliffe, Norman, Turei and Peters, none of whom I felt strongly about. I thought I was rebelling against the establishment.

I also thought that, as a journalist, I should be as impartial as possible. I had recently read an interview with Paddy Gower, who said he didn’t vote because: “I like to be independent as possible.” I would use his words in conversation to justify my ambivalence.

The election came and went and I stayed home. I think I’ve already said I’m an idiot?

Lately, when asked why I didn’t vote, as well as responding that I’m an idiot, I admit I was probably just plain lazy.

My regret has nothing to do with my opinion of the National Party and its performance in Government, and while I understand the “don’t vote, don’t complain” view, I’ve ignored it and complained and praised in abundance.

Not much has changed for me in the past three years. I’ve pretty much got the same job and my savings account has only a slightly less vacant look.

What has changed is me accepting it’s my responsibility to vote. I could have no good excuse.

This is my country. I live here. I know people who are hurting and I know people who are thriving. I know people who fear three more years of the same Government and people who fear change.

I want to be counted. I want to have power. I want my vote to represent the change, or lack of change, I want to see.

I now realise I don’t have to like any politician. I don’t have to belong to any party or be convinced on every issue by any of them.

This is my police force. These are my roads. This is my health system. Homelessness is my problem. Economic success should be my success.

There are many young people in New Zealand disengaged from the political system. It’s not that they don’t care about their communities and their whanau, it’s that they don’t care about, in their eyes, old white people hundreds of kilometres from home.

Many think politics is only for rich, well-educated people. I don’t have the excuse of not being taught about politics and the importance of voting at school. I should have known that while I lacked an interest in politics, it didn’t lack an interest in me.

Voting isn’t the endgame of democratic participation,

If, like my flatmate, I tried to subscribe to the impossible scenario that there wasn’t a single policy or issue I cared about, then I should vote for others.

I might vote for the parent working three jobs and struggling to afford food. I might vote for the dairy farmer. I might for the prisoner. I might vote for the younger brother eager for three years of free tertiary education. I might vote for the woman who was given a "not justified abortion" certificate.

I might vote because 124 years ago yesterday, suffrage campaigners won emancipation here, before any other nation.

I might vote to disappoint those who want to keep people in our age bracket - 18-29 - disengaged. Voting isn’t the endgame of democratic participation, it should be the start.

And so I showed up as soon as advance voting began last Monday. There may be more shock polls and revelations this week, but I had been waiting three years for the moment.

I ticked for a party and ticked for a candidate and dropped my folded paper in a small orange box.

As I walked back to work I felt a slight weight, noticeable only to me, lift from my shoulders.