FOUR ELECTIONS IN A ROW the centre-left romped home with the Auckland mayoralty. Four elections of postal voting. Four elections in which the logistical management of the ballot was contracted out to the private sector. Four elections won by white, male politicians over the age of 55 years. Four elections of entirely satisfactory results – at least from the perspective of the centre-left.
One defeat, however, is all that it has taken for the centre-left (and its more combustible fellow-travellers) to denounce the entire electoral process as a rort, and to strongly insinuate that the victorious mayoral candidate, Wayne Brown, is lacking in democratic legitimacy. If this is not a case of sour grapes on the part of the losers, then it is difficult to imagine what a case of sour grapes might look like!
Let us begin with the most respectable of the losers’ complaints: the difficulty of keeping track of electors whose socio-economic status entails frequent changes of address. This is a perennial problem for the Electoral Commission (yes, that’s right, enrolment is the responsibility of the Electoral Commission, not private election services providers) letters arriving at addresses where the elector (or potential elector) is no longer in residence. Short of introducing a decidedly intrusive system of comprehensive citizen surveillance, however, it is difficult to see how this problem might be overcome.
Let us not forget that enrolling to vote (as opposed to actually casting a vote) is compulsory in New Zealand. It is the duty of every citizen to ensure that he or she is on the Electoral Roll. Fortunately, registering to vote in this country (unlike the USA) is extraordinarily easy. It can be done in a few minutes online, or at any Post Office. The only obstacle confronting those who move houses frequently from updating their details prior to the postal ballots being sent out is their own indifference to the electoral process.
As many commentators, confronted with the losers’ accusations of a “rigged” 2022 local government election, have noted, there’s not a lot that citizens, sufficiently motivated, cannot do. Music fans will jump online in an instant to secure tickets to the concerts of their favourite artists. Bargain hunters will queue for hours to get first crack at a big-box retailer’s discounted stock. Far less effort is required to enrol and vote in an election. All that’s required is the will.
The other loud complaint of the losers is that there were far too few ballot-boxes made available for those tardy electors seeking to deposit their ballot-papers. Given that upwards of 64,000 votes were successfully cast between sunrise and noon on Saturday, 8 October, this complaint lacks credibility. Further undermining the charge, is the fact that during the three-week-long voting period for local elections, there are ballot-boxes located every few hundred metres for the convenience of electors. They’re called post-boxes. Making it easier to vote was, precisely, why Postal Voting was introduced in 1989.
Yes, yes, yes! Younger voters don’t use post-boxes, don’t even know what they look like, and certainly wouldn’t know where to find one. Even so, sufficiently motivated young voters, ready and eager to participate in the democratic process, could always overcome their ignorance by summoning-up the courage to ask one of those hideous human-beings aged over 65 where the nearest post-box is located. Chances are they’d discover there’s one opposite the neighbourhood dairy, or located conveniently right outside their favourite café. But, that would require them to act as if they were members of a community made up of multiple ethnicities and generations – wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, no one’s yet managed to transform the volksgemeinschaft into an app instantly downloadable to the 18-25-year-old citizen’s smartphone.
The least respectable argument put forward by the Centre-left losers of the 2022 local government elections is that, somehow, the results represent ‘The Revenge of the Baby Boomers’. The claim, here, is that, somehow, everyone over the age of 55 in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin, telepathically received the instruction to dash the hopes of their children and grandchildren by voting for Wayne Brown, Phil Mauger, and Jules Radich, instead of Efeso Collins, David Meates and Aaron Hawkins.
Secure in their obscenely overpriced homes, these Boomers experienced no difficulties in getting their voting papers. Indeed, some of them received more than one set. Some were – shock! horror! – multiple voters.
That’s right. If you own a rated (i.e. a taxed) property in any region, district or city, you are indeed entitled to vote for the body that struck the rate (i.e. imposed the tax). The principle upon which this entitlement is based is as old as democracy itself. It underpins every Westminster-style parliament. It even provided the key slogan of the American Revolution of 1776. “No taxation without representation!”
What is not correct, however, is that any elector in New Zealand is permitted to vote more than once in the same contest. A wealthy Boomer may own six houses in Auckland, but he is not entitled to six votes. His representation on the body taxing his properties is secured by a single vote – in exactly the same way as the young renter’s representation. The Boomer’s holiday-home in Coromandel, being taxed, does entitle him to vote – once – in Coromandel. But only for the candidates standing in that locality. The notion that Auckland’s Boomer landlords were casting fistfuls of votes for Wayne Brown is risible. Proof only of how sorely needed civics classes are in our schools.
A powerful sense of entitlement does, however, lie at the heart of the 2022 losers’ sour grapes. Not the entitlement derived from democratic principle, but the sense of entitlement ingrained in political activists who believe themselves to be on the right (that is to say left) side of history. This certainty concerning their own ideological rectitude exists in inverse proportion to their knowledge of the actual nuts-and-bolts of historical and political agency.
Wayne, Phil and Jules didn’t win because they are jointly in control of some sort of bizarre Boomer hive-mind; they won because they had a more accurate fix than Efeso, David and Aaron on what the citizens of Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin, who were most likely to vote, wanted (and did not want) from their respective mayors and councils. The brutal fact of the matter is that the centre-left mayoral candidates in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin ran campaigns plagued by a conspicuous lack of one, or more, of the “Three Ms” – Money, Message, Machine. (Hat-tip to Mike Hutcheson.)
The proof of this contention is that Tory Whanau, the “Green” candidate for the Wellington mayoralty had the skills and the support to lay her hands on all three of the “Ms” – and she won the election hands-down. Tory found out what the over-55s wanted; but she also found out what the 18-25s, and all the other demographics, wanted; and then she offered it to them in a well-organised, positive, and successful campaign.
Democracy isn’t cheap, and it isn’t easy, but it is simple. Don’t insist that the voters be given what they don’t want. Build your footpaths where the people walk. Never, ever, be a sore loser. And, always remember: vox Populi, vox Dei.
The voice of the people, is the voice of God.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 13 October 2022.