Tuesday, July 05, 2011

What’s happening with the public education campaign on the voting system

As most will know, the Electoral Commission is charged with letting people know about the upcoming referendum on MMP and have done a nationwide mailout on the basics of the four voting systems up for grabs, videos and TV ads. As is always the case, vested interest groups are providing their slant – the most prominent being the Vote for MMP and the Vote for Change groups.

The media and blogosphere have been involved also, with a mixture of fact and misinformation. Graeme Edgeler has been offering a fact-checking service to correct any misinformation.

Some of the discussion is ambigious – for example Vote for Change spokesperson Jordan Williams says he supports a fair electoral system –particularly not a system like MMP where MPs come in off the list after losing their seat – while personally supporting an alternative to MMP that does just that, while at the same time refusing to say what his group publicly supports.

While much of the discussion is political punditry, the voters in Te Tai Tokerau and Taumaranui probably couldn’t care less provide they get their benefits each week. It is these people that are unlikely to vote and it is these people that are to be communicated with via a public communication campaign so that they can make an informed decision and get out and vote..

Yet the main thrust of the Electoral Commission’s campaign will not kick in until six weeks before the election – that’s three months away and right in the middle of the Rugby World Cup final stages. What happens if people believe that if they vote for MMP in the first referendum question it is pointless voting for one of the four alternatives in the second question? What if they don’t want to keep MMP and vote for First Past the Post in the second referendum question because they’d rather have fewer list seats in parliament, or because they’d rather see a reformed version of MMP and don’t know it may be reviewed – or believe it will be reviewed by the government, or reviewed without public input. What if they voted Supplementary Member on the understanding it will be close to a 70/50 list/electorate split - believing it to be a good middle ground between FPP and MMP?

What it will come down to is informed people such as Edgeler, and hopefully the Electoral Commission, to fact check inaccuracies, miscommunication and misinterpretation - but will these messages get through to the wider public in time to make an informed decision come election day?

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