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Bugger evidence-based policymaking – buy a Kombi

by 10 Sep 2016Election turnout, Local board, Youth voting1 comment

Tessa Berger

Fresh-Faced Initiative: As a fierce advocate for youth involvement, Tessa Berger persuaded Mahurangi College to sign up for Kids Voting for the first time, just ahead of the cut-off for this year’s elections. Meanwhile, Rodney College—whose pupils’ choice for local board member election, last time round, Thomas De Thierry, was not the successful candidate—has dropped out. Back where she spent her intermediate years, on Wednesday, Tessa appealed to students to communicate their ideas for their community. image Mahurangi Magazine

After three decades of Kids Voting, there is ample evidence to back it up. And for half that time, after it was imported from the United States by the then Auckland City Council, kids in Aotearoa have been at it.

This year, a record 11 730 students in the Auckland region are participating—double the number elsewhere in Aotearoa. This, however, is only about 8% of who should be shadow voting in the intermediates and colleges of the region.

With a robust, proven programme such as Kids Voting, it is perplexing as to why Auckland Council’s elections planning manager would want to reinvent the wheel, in the form of $1.22 million, six-week Volkswagen Kombi-based roadshow. It is about as likely as the Electoral Commission’s orange man is, to single-handedly reverse the downward trend in voter turnout. It is highly probable, in contrast, that a single, barely 22-year-old, has already done more to boost voter turnout in the region than the ornately painted Kombi, through her eye-catching billboards, and the media frenzy that followed one of them being removed, presumably souvenired.


Re-Inventing the Kombi: Auckland Council, rather than build on the evidence-based route to arresting the world-wide decline voter turnout, has gambled $1.22 million on a six-week roadshow. image Auckland Council

While it should be self-evident, it is a fact that if a person first votes when they are young, they are far more likely to develop a lifetime voting habit—a fact firmly established by numerous studies. So it makes no sense to spend $1.22 million not closely targeted on those who’ve just turned 18, or within a few years of doing so. And this while the inaugural chief science advisor to the prime minister, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, grinds out report after report on the need for policymaking to be evidence-based. Clearly the mayor of Auckland also needs a chief science advisor, although candidate Vic Crone seems to think a chief digital and technology advisor is all that’s needed—no matter policy’s not evidence-based, so long as it’s digital and… techie. Even John Palino wanted himself a chief science advisor, in 2013 when he was serious about seeking the Auckland mayoralty. Ironically, this time around, when he appears to only be going through the motions, the words evidence or science don’t appear anywhere on his website.

Underlining just how critical the age at which a person is when they first vote, is the brilliant study based on elections in Finland and Denmark that showed turnout is highest when young people can vote immediately after being enfranchised, and then falls away. This, the authors argue, supports lowering the voting age to 16, but it also supports voting by pre-age-eligible young people, in real elections but with those votes being reported on but not affecting the electoral result. The added advantage of pre-enfranchised voting is that it would see all students enrolled by year-7, vastly increasing their chances of voting in the earliest election available to them. Central and local politicians would also be greatly incentivised to anticipate and respond to the issues that exercise young voters. While this may focus on addressing a perceived lack of ‘things to do’, for young people, it is also likely to increase pressure to face up to the existential issue of anthropogenic global warming, the understanding of which, crucially, is inversely proportional to age.

Rally for democracy

Chloe Swarbrick and Others: With Chloe Swarbrick sharing only 2.9% support of all voters polled with Others, it has to be hoped that a good percentage of the undecideds have swung her way in the last month. Meantime, if anything like the 51.7% who indicated they are decided actually vote, this year would be record-breaking turnout, which it is most unlikely to be. Dwindling turnouts are just one of the threats facing democracy, with, worldwide only 12% of countries judged to be full democracies. These include dubious democracies such as the United States with its shamelessly gerrymandered electorates and voter-ID laws targeting African Americans with almost surgical precision. More than 91% of the world’s population live in a continuum of flawed democracies through to authoritarian regimes. chart Spinoff/SSI

With most mayoral candidates portraying the Len Brown regime as profligate, and vowing to slash spending on all but core and essential council services, it is unlikely that the new mayor after 8 October will be much motivated to substantially increase investment in Kids Voting, much less in anything more radical such as lobbying central government to introduce pre-enfranchised voting. But parsimony competes with consistency, as the refuge of the unimaginative, and New Zealand’s electoral costs could be cut in half overnight with the introduction of concurrent elections—holding central and local body elections at the same time. But not only does this halve the costs of holding them, it also drives up the turnout, particularly for the local elections, which only attracted an abysmal 35% of enrolled voters in the Auckland region, in 2013. The money saved would readily fund pre-enfranchised voting.

However, in the quest to better engage young people in the electoral process, there is no substitute for younger, more attractive candidates. While first-past-the-post dictates that Aucklanders should vote strategically, with the mayoralty a one-horse race, those who accept the evidence for the imperative—if declining turn-out is to be turned around—of engaging the young, can safely vote for Chloe Swarbrick. Because while she won’t be elected—she should, of course, also have stood for a ward or a local board—some sort of showing would stand her in better stead for her next tilt at public office.

The snowballing of publicity that followed the missing billboards story broken by the Rodney Times, on 4 September, resulted in Tessa Berger receiving a rapturous reception at Mahurangi College on Wednesday, by students signed up for Kids Voting. Tessa had earlier initiated the last-minute enrolment of the college in the programme, as part of her commitment to Rodney having ‘the most Kids-Voting-ly schools’ in the Auckland region, within her first term of office. This is a passion she shares with the current excellent Rodney Local Board chair—Brenda Steele, who holds the youth portfolio.

Tessa Berger’s shoestring campaign has already done more to energise the local-body elections, and Kids Voting, than the costly council Kombi is ever likely to, but that is because it is evidence-based.