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Referendum a hard sell for Electoral Commission

Nov 20th, 2011 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

EARTHQUAKES AND rugby matches have added to the challenge of the MMP referendum as the Electoral Commission tries to hold people’s attention and educate voters.

Political scientist Nigel Roberts answers questions about voting systems.

The Electoral Commission is holding a series of public meetings to explain the referendum and how the five different voting systems work.

A small crowd of 15 to 20 people attended a meeting at Rutherford House on Wednesday, co-hosted by political scientist Nigel Roberts and Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown.

“I think it’s important to host these meetings and Wellington City Council helped with the advertising because it’s important that people make an informed choice,” Ms Wade-Brown says.

She prefers MMP because in her view it gives a fairer representation in government.

“But no political system is perfect and I think other people will have good reasons for choosing different ones.”

Mr Roberts has lost count of how many meetings he’s hosted, but guesses it’s about 20 – “from Invercargill to Whangarei and Greymouth through to Gisbourne”.

He says the Electoral Commission has had a difficult row to hoe in keeping people informed about voting systems after MMP was established in 1993.

“People aged less than 36 years old have only ever voted in the parliamentary election in New Zealand under MMP.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown opens the referendum meeting.

“So there’s a group of people we have to re-educate. There’s a group of people who of course paid little attention in ‘92 and ‘93, and there’s a group of people who have forgotten what happened.”

On top of that, the Christchurch earthquakes and the Rugby World Cup have taken people’s minds off politics this year.

But he hopes the meetings will help develop public knowledge leading up to the election.

“I personally give credit to John Key for announcing nine months in advance when the election would be, and I think that’s helped the learning process,” he says.

It also helps that this year’s referendum is essentially a repeat of the 1992 referendum, with all five voting systems considered in 1992 being considered again.

Turnout at the meetings has been relatively small, but he’s pleased with the level of engagement and knowledge displayed by people’s questions.

“In the entire meetings that I’ve done, I’ve had one nutter – just one.”

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