Low-hanging election-turnout fruit and silver bullets
It is more than semantics. In the thousand-year war to survive anthropogenic global heating, a magazine of silver bullets the size of the 59 000-hectare Hawthorne depot, Nevada, will be needed.
However, regardless of the problem, received wisdom would have it, there are no silver bullets. But the silver-bullet metaphor seems to have been weaponised as a putdown for purportedly misplaced enthusiasm for one climate action strategy or another, one voter-turnout decline intervention or other, or indeed for anything that hints of central planning. Setting aside the preposterous proposition that all central planning is bad planning, a metaphor that is every bit as useful and legitimate as the phrase low hanging fruit should not be allowed to be side-lined.
Bullets, silver or otherwise, only begin to be effective when fired from a meticulously machined, and accurately aimed, barrel. A cartridge detonated absent a weapon can cause some brief, localised mayhem, although mostly from casing shrapnel, rather than the bullet itself. Concurrent elections—a silver bullet in anybody’s book—could double local-government election turnout, but nor, of course, is it a panacea for the global decline of democracy. For that, the shiniest bullet is campaign finance reform. Nobody should be in the least surprised that a system requiring every more gargantuan electoral spending—Donald Trump spent $44 million on Facebook alone, in 2016—would benefit business interests ahead of people and a survivable climate.
The decision by the Democrats to impeach President Trump has brought a 7-percentage-point surge in approval for the way the United States Congress is handling its job, but from a dangerously low 18%in September 2019 to October 2019. With 79% of Americans polled disapproving of their House of Representatives and Senate, as recently as August, should Senate Republicans ultimately block his removal from office, that would be proof positive of a failed democracy.
That a country that has styled itself as the World’s greatest democracy has been rendered dysfunctional following a modicum of demographic change starkly signals that democracies currently lack the resilience to survive the infinitely greater disruption of anthropogenic climate change. What would be hugely helpful would be for one or two countries to rapidly reverse their declining voter turnout, reform their campaign finance laws, and begin, democratically, mobilising climate action. The wriggle room in which to trial Green New Deals has long since evaporated. The New Deal didn’t defeat of Axis fascism; mobilisation did that. The Axis powers were beaten by mobilisation deploying silver bullets such as the Supermarine Spitfire, de Havilland Mosquito, Republic p-47 Thunderbolt, and the Manhattan Project coup de grâce. The all-too-easily-imagined scale of suffering beginning to unfold this century, as entire regions condemned to become uninhabitable for all but the very rich and massively armed, calls for immediate climate-action mobilisation. Meantime, the most radical action planned by electioneering politicians is merely aimed at stimulating a green market economy. Appeasement, eight decades on.
Turnout of registered voters in Auckland Council’s first year of existence—2010—was a refreshing 51%. Since then, of the 11 metropolitan areas, only Nelson has consistently had a turnout higher than 50%. Auckland Council immediately dropped back to mid-30% range, and stayed there, attracting 34.8%—not great, but within 1.3 percentage points of average turnout of registered voters for the region, 2013–2019. Be that as it may, there is an understandable refocussing on the need for online voting, with even Auckland Council’s returning officer joining in. When postal voting was introduced, it saw an upswing in turnout. Then, quelle surprise, the turnout percentage promptly re-joined the inexorable, global voter turnout decline. But just because online voting won’t magically save democracy on its own doesn’t mean it couldn’t be part of a silver-bullet salvo that does. Part of that salvo should be annual elections. Forest and Bird’s charming Bird of the Year attracted nearly 43 000 voters, a whopping 28% of whom voted for the hoiho. For preference-voting advocates, it would have been wonderful to be able to report that the brilliant drag-and-drop voter interface, which allowed voters, for the first time, to rank five favourite birds, boosted participation. Sad to say, 2019 was 12% down on 2018—participation, nonetheless, was 3.3 times higher than in 2015, a trend that puts what has been done to democracy to shame…
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