Before you decide not to enrol or vote these local elections, consider this: We're not just lucky to live in a democratic country; universal suffrage is a prized individual right that took centuries, and millions of lives, to achieve.

Democracy's the only system that puts a serf on the same level, at the ballot box, as a king; because "one person, one vote" has no means test. Simple majority rules.

Throw that vote away and you have minority rule, based on who cares. And those with "special interests" - the ones who make money off the rest of us - are the ones who "care". So they win by default.

That applies to all levels of government - central, local, tribal. It's said you get what you vote for, but these days, given less than half the population votes, we get what you don't vote for.


Does it matter if there's clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, land free of genetically-modified crops?

Does it matter if the plains are protected from floods, the rubbish is taken away to be safely recycled or disposed of, the public's health is looked after through community health workers and hospitals?

All these things, and a whole lot more, are managed by local government: local people - your neighbours - who YOU elect. Still think it's not important?

Problem is I'm preaching to the converted: The people who read newspapers, or visit information (as opposed to entertainment) sites online, or who engage in debate about these issues. They're (mostly) not the people who are not enrolled.

Official statistics have it those are mainly the young, and Maori. But I'd suggest they could better be generalised as being poorer households in rental properties. Perhaps a third of this group, or more, are not properly enrolled.

See, chances are, if they ever were enrolled, their "vote pack" is going somewhere they lived five addresses back - which (as it's a postal vote) also raises issues about who might be voting in their stead, now.

No one is checking this. Even though, by law, enrolment is compulsory.

Local Government NZ is running a campaign to raise the number voting in local elections above 50 per cent, and that's laudable; but it's principally an online campaign that may not be seen (or may be ignored) by the disenfranchised who most need to see it.


I'm not knocking LGNZ's efforts, but if the great unenrolled are not being reached then government needs to get serious about this before our democracy slips away for lack of a bit of shoe-leather.

Look, the only way to first properly check who lives where, and second get more folk enrolled and informed about voting, is to physically pound the streets and knock on every door. I've gone so far as to volunteer to organise a local door-knock exercise, but no one has yet offered to provide any of the material needed to effect that.

It should be simple. Apart from wannabe politicians, any number of people (council and otherwise) knock on doors daily. Arm the most appropriate with new voter packs, and over the course of a triennial cycle they'd cover the country. Sure, there'd still be gaps, but far less than under the present no-checks no-responsibility regime.

Of course people should take responsibility for themselves, but many opt out because they think their vote somehow "doesn't count" and government "doesn't care" about them. By not really trying to find who and where they are, government is reinforcing this prejudice.

Which is how we end up with minority vested interests in power. I can hear the oligarchs raising a toast to the new feudalism.

- Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet. All opinions expressed here are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.