Saturday, November 08, 2008

Exercising Our Democratic Rights

On Saturday morning shortly after eleven o'clock, I went with my flatmate Noam and his girlfriend Rachel down to the Aro Valley community centre to vote in the New Zealand general election, before we even got our food and coffee.

It was a sunny day with fluffy clouds framing the hills, and a light chill lingering from the previous day's southerly storm. There was a steady stream of people making their way to and from the voting booths. Lingering outstide the community centre, I heard at least four different languages being spoken. People were smiling; the atmosphere was relaxed and almost festive.

Inside were two rows of tables staffed by mostly young people, while fresh-faced observers with combed hair and wearing different-coloured party rosettes milled around with clipboards. The left side was for people who were registered in the Wellington Central electorate while the right hand tables took care of those with the slightly more complex task of making a special vote.

We had little ATM-sized cards with our names and addresses, which we'd cut out along the dotted line from the letter in the 'enrolment pack' that all registered voters had been sent about a week previously.

The girl at the desk took my card, looked up my name in the enrolment book, carefully crossed it out with a ruler and pen, and handed me a voting slip. I took the piece of paper behind a flimsy booth assembled from folded cardboard, took a fat orange marker pen and ticked my preferred party and electorate candiate, then dropped the folded paper into the 'Wellington Central' box on my way out the door.

The whole process took about three minutes. It was no more complex than making a bank deposit, notably simpler than mailing a package, and as reassuringly low-tech as either. You have to admire the dedication of those who stood hours in line on a weekday to vote in the US election, and the gravitas that gave the whoel event. But in its efficiency and low-key pleasantness, election day in New Zealand was 21st-century democracy.

About the results, perhaps the less said the better for now.

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