Should residents or citizens vote?

Kate McMillan writes at NZ Herald:

New Zealand is uniquely liberal in giving the right to vote in national elections to permanent residents after one year’s residence.

But we shouldn’t be too surprised or worried if not all eligible migrants exercise this right immediately. What we should be worried about is if they, and their children, do not ever develop the voting habit.

With the overseas-born making up more than 25 per cent of New Zealand’s population, low levels of electoral participation among immigrants and their descendants will not be good for our electoral democracy.

I wonder if low levels of participation occur because migrants gain the right to vote with no effort on their part. As Kate says, most countries require you to have lived far longer in a country or be a citizen.

Eligibility in different countries is:

  • Australia: citizens
  • Canada: citizens
  • UK: citizen of UK or citizen of Commonwealth country and resident
  • US: citizens
  • Germany: citizens
  • France: citizens

The reason I back an eligibility change to citizens is two-fold:

  1. It would give residents an incentive to become citizens, and I think encouraging is important. We are one of very few countries that have few legal distinctions between a resident and a citizen. We should have more to encourage people living here to become NZ citizens
  2. If you are forced to enrol once you have been living here for a year, you are less likely to actually vote as you are not fully engaged in NZ. You may not have decided yet whether you plan to remain here. And hence you start off with a pattern of non voting. If however you only get the vote once you commit to New Zealand, then I think you are far more likely to use it, and keep using it.

 

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