Born-again Labour supporter Willie Jackson is on a crusade to drag poor and young non-voters into the political system for "the health of our democracy." And good luck to him.
That nearly half eligible young Maori under 29 and over a third of non-Maori in the same age group failed to vote in the 2014 election, is troubling. And not just to Jackson. Prior to the 2014 contest, for example, Laila Harre, another recently born-again Labourite, but then leader of the Internet Party, said her main focus would be to mobilise the "missing million" who had failed to vote in 2011.
She failed to make much head way in that mission, something she shared with Labour, which since the 2002 election, has also been trying to turn around the fall-off in voting, particularly amongst its natural support base.
Now Jackson's having a go. Rather forgetting that's he still trying to sweet-talk himself into a high position on Labour's list, he's taken a swipe at all political parties in the latest Manukau Courier, asking "how can we make our society fairer and more equal if political parties only pander to a certain group of voters?" He means by that, the "middle class."
As part of a generation that dutifully trotted off to the polling booth on reaching voting age like everyone else in the street, what I did find curious in Jackson's argument, is that he sheets home all the blame for non-voting to society, to the political parties and to the Electoral Commission. There's not a single tut tut in the direction of the non-voter.
It's society's fault for not providing "civics lessons" at school. It's the parties' fault for pandering only to the middle class. And, of all things, it's the Electoral Commission's faults for not having a secret, non-viewable electoral roll!
Apparently "the poor fear debt collectors or state agencies using their enrolment details to hunt them down, and many domestic violence survivors don't want their abusers using the electoral roll to find them."
The reality of course is, that 729,560 of the non-voters in 2014 were enrolled, so it wasn't the fear of the debt collector that kept them at home. Anyway there is already a well-used confidential unpublished roll for those who fear appearing on the published roll "could threaten your personal safety or that of your family."
Not sure if debtors qualify, but nationwide there are approximately 17,600 people on this roll. It's popular with police and prison officers, and judges. There's about 200 - 400 names per electorate. Interestingly, the exceptions are in Jackson's South Auckland, with Mangere's 52, Manukau East's 65 and Manurewa's 112 being the lowest totals in the land.
For the record, Christchurch folk are the most secretive by far, with Port Hills topping the list with 458, and neighbouring seats not far behind.
In its post-2014 election report, the Electoral Commission noted that the decline in turnout over the last 30 years was not unique to New Zealand but that here, it "has been particularly steep and persistent." It bottomed out at 69.57 per cent in 2011, rising slightly to 72.14 per cent in 2014. This followed the Commission's decision to actively drum up votes. In coming weeks, for example, it will have stalls at Polyfest and Pasifika.
Meanwhile, Jackson says he'll be out enrolling as many voters as possible. Which is what political parties have always done.
But even if he does add another five per cent to the roll, his effort will be wasted if nearly one in four of registered voters still don't bother to vote. Jackson blames this "alienation of the young, brown and poor potential voter" on the Electoral Commission. That's ridiculous. It's not hard to enrol. The breakdown in communication is surely between the turned-off voters and Jackson and his political class.
After the 2002 general election, Labour studied the non-vote, which former party president Mike Williams noted later was highest in safe Labour electorates amongst low income earners.
Labour concluded the majority of non-voters were either "disengaged" and believed "politics has nothing to do with them" or they didn't bother voting because they saw the outcome as a foregone conclusion.
Jackson should absorb Williams' conclusion: "The challenge for the opposition parties is to become relevant to marginalised electors and to look like serious challengers."