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Our democracy is important - get out and vote!

Whatever your political views are it's important to get out and vote this election.

I've been politically interested and active for many years now. Amongst other things, I've written and blogged about politics, been a parliamentary candidate and, in a politically neutral way, solicited enrolments on behalf of the Electoral Commission as an enrolment fieldworker.

Doing all this has given me an understanding of all facets of the political/electoral process. Indeed, I love elections and anticipate their coming like a child does Christmas. That's why I enjoy all of the campaigning, the debates, the argument and the passion which are part and parcel of the electoral process. In saying all this, I recognise that politics isn't everyone's cup of tea. Yet elections are an essential part of life, not only in this country, but in other comparable democracies around the world.

In fact, New Zealand is one of the longest standing parliamentary democracies in the world. Although democracy (like all political systems) can be imperfect, having the right to vote and the related rights of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience are something to be cherished. 

And that's why it's been disappointing to see fewer and fewer people voting in recent elections.

However, this year, it seems that the recent changes which occurred both before and during the election campaign as well as the major issues we're facing as a country have gotten people fired up to vote. Due to these factors, we could be looking at the highest voter turnout in a New Zealand election for over 20 years.

I wish, though, that more people were excited about voting at EVERY election. I say this because there are some countries where democracy either exists in a very limited form or not at all. Also we must think of those people (especially in World War 2) who gave their lives so that authoritarianism may not take hold, of those people from the early Chartists in the UK who called for the extension of the franchise to working people through to the Suffragists who argued that women should have the right to vote and engage politically in the same way as men. We must also remember that even in the most supposedly modern democracies, such as the United States, the fight to enlarge the franchise to African Americans and other minority groups took a long time. Even for Maori in Aotearoa, their right to participate in elections was effectively curtailed until the establishment of the Maori seats in 1867 and Maori did not have the right to vote on the same day as Pakeha until 1949. Even today, some New Zealanders with lived experience of mental illness who are under compulsory treatment orders or who are prisoners have either limited rights to vote or none at all.

Given all these factors, I believe we should extend voting rights to those currently denied them both here and overseas. I say this because some people who have lived experience of severe mental illness and who are (effectively) 'sectioned' under compulsory treatment orders and all prisoners should have the full right to vote in New Zealand. Moreover, we should ensure that every school student is taught civics education and this should include lessons about the importance of voting and participation in our decision making processes.

Above all, we should be grateful that we live in a country that, however imperfect our democracy is, we can still have a say over who governs us every three years.

And that is something, regardless of our political views, that we should all cherish. 

One last thing as well - go out and vote either at an advanced voting place before Friday or at any polling booth near you this Saturday, September 23!