Election 2014: overview

NZ has a general election scheduled for 20 September 2014. While voting in an election is a very small part of democratic participation, it is undeniably important. I have spent substantial research time studying voting methods in general, and have submitted to the Electoral Commission review of MMP in 2012. The shelving of the Commission’s recommendations was disappointing. However I believe that overall New Zealand has a highly performing electoral system, compared to other countries. We should aim to optimize it, but the main problem with democracy lies elsewhere.

I am less confident now  than ever before that representative democracy can fulfil all the expectations we have of it. The rise of internet technology allows us to connect the public with its representatives much more easily than before. Perhaps it is time to think hard about whether our current system of (essentially) delegating a proxy vote is the best possible. I don’t have much insight yet on this topic, so will stick to the current paradigm for now. In other posts, to come soon, I will discuss a few issues related to the current election, from the perspective of a voter and an observer of politics, with no research agenda or claims to special knowledge.

In 2011 Geoffrey Pritchard and I produced an online simulator to predict the outcome of elections under several alternative voting systems under consideration in the referendum on MMP. Since MMP was confirmed by the referendum and no changes have yet been made to its parameters, this tool is of no real use in 2014. It is good to see that there are other online tools that aim to assist voters to make an informed choice. A new one getting a lot of publicity is VoteCompass. I tried it out yesterday, and it seems definitely worth using in order to get an idea of party policies and one’s own political preferences.

In the 2013 local elections, Generation Zero had useful scorecards rating the candidates, based on interviews and email surveys. I recall seeing simpler scorecards that rated party policies in specific areas for previous elections, but haven’t found any this year. A systematic presentation of these would be very helpful. Another idea is to look at voting records of representatives, and performance measures of members of parliament. Something like this is done in USA, by organizations such as the League of Women Voters. In general, if representative democracy is to work well, much more transparency is needed, and it should be as easy to compare candidates as it is to decide on which model of a particular consumer good to buy.

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