25 May 2014

Mandatory voting idea questioned

12:09 pm on 25 May 2014

Chief Electoral Officer Robert Peden says a discussion is needed about introducing compulsory voting.

An Irish political scientist says there is strong consensus within the political science community that compulsory voting could go a long way towards turning around the declining turnout at elections.

David Farrell of University College, Dublin, said voting rates are falling in many countries and turnout had gone done 20 percent in average over the past 50 years.

"While it has gone down in New Zealand it should be said that the rate of decline is not as steep in New Zealand as it is in most other democracies," he told Radio New Zealand's Sunday Morning programme .

Over the last three decades voter turnout in New Zealand has fallen from 89 percent in 1981 to 69 percent at the last general election in 2011.

Mr Peden said the idea of compulsory voting had merit, but was not a silver bullet, and a much wider discussion was needed.

In Australia, where voting is compulsory, enrolment is lower and spoiled voting papers are more common. "They have high turnout as a proportion of enrolled voters but they have typically lower rates of enrolment than New Zealand does, and they have much higher rate of informal voting, because they have to vote," he said

Mr Peden said the Electoral Commission wanted New Zealanders to vote because they want to vote, not because they have to.