If you’re looking for the Wednesday Wandering, just page back and offer your opinion on what you think would be the ideal cover for my novel Child of a Rainless Year. Then come back and join Alan and me in a discussion of the vote.
JANE: A few weeks ago, Jim and I got into a serious discussion about voting
with our friend Michael Wester. One of the topics that came up was how to make voters feel their vote matters.
This is a big issue for me. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, growing up in Washington, D.C., I was very aware of being disenfranchised in some parts of our electoral process because of where I lived. However, when I moved to New Mexico, a state with a very small population, I suddenly came alive to the fact that my vote really mattered.
Anyhow, on that particular day, we started talking about other systems of government. Michael suggested we ask you how voting and voter registration works in your part of the world.
ALAN: In New Zealand, voter registration is compulsory. However, prosecutions for not being registered are unheard of – the courts have better things to do. Every time an election is looming, a vivid orange cartoon man appears on the television exhorting us all to enroll, and explaining just how easy it is. Amusingly, the felt tip pens with which we mark our ballot papers are the same shade of orange as the man. I doubt if this is a coincidence.
JANE: Is it the same in Australia?
ALAN: No – voting is compulsory in Australia, and while prosecutions for not voting are very rare, they do happen. I know people who deliberately spoil their ballot papers (which is not illegal) simply so as to stick to the letter of the law.
JANE: That’s fascinating. As you probably know, in the United States, citizens are not required to vote or even to register to vote. Do you think these requirements make the citizens of Australia and New Zealand more conscious of their rights and responsibilities?
ALAN: I doubt it. We’re just as intellectually lazy as anyone else. But I suspect the decisions that we have to make are much simpler than yours are. At election time, we each cast two votes – none of this “one person, one vote” nonsense for us! One vote is for the party that we want in government, and one vote is for the person we want to represent our district in that government. It is a very common tactic to vote for a local representative who is from a different political party than the one you cast your government vote for… As it happens, that’s exactly what I did in our last election.
JANE: Okay. Two votes only, but it sounds as if those votes cover a lot of people. Where does your Prime Minister enter the picture?
ALAN: The leader of the party that is voted into government becomes Prime Minister. The party leader is chosen by the party itself and each party has its own arcane rituals for selecting its leader. However, if the party leader is unpopular with the electorate, it can have a big effect on the final election result. The Labour Party was soundly trashed in our latest elections, and this was put down to the fact that its leader was generally seen as ineffectual. He isn’t its leader any more…
JANE: So the Prime Minister isn’t as much like our President as most people here seem to think. Interesting… Don’t you have any say in your local government?
ALAN: We certainly do. We vote for local district councillors and the local Mayor, though these elections take place at a different time from the national governmental elections.
In America, you seem to have a lot of elected officials that we simply don’t have. Apart from the Mayor, all our other officials are appointed rather than elected. That makes life a lot simpler for the voting public.
JANE: We definitely vote for a lot more offices than you do… In fact, there are times I think we vote for too many officials, to the point that turnout for local elections drops off drastically because people get overwhelmed.
While I understand, I think this is an incredibly short-sighted reaction because those local officials (city councilors, members of the school board, and the like) are actually going to have more of an effect on a voter’s daily quality of life than will the President of the United States.
I want to continue this discussion, but I need to go write some fiction, so later!