Monday, December 21, 2009

One person, one vote

The above is the core principle of democracy. Everyone is morally equal, and so their voices should count equally in choosing a government.

Unfortunately, its not a principle we respect in local government. In local elections - but not national ones - we have a special class of "ratepayer electors", non-residents who pay rates on property, and are thus entitled to vote. Of course, the place they actually live also elects a local government, and so the net effect is that the wealthy get to vote twice (or more, if they own property in more than one local authority). And we wonder why our local government works in their favour...

As Matt McCarten points out, Rodney Hide's latest Auckland dictatorship bill includes a clause extending this process to the new Auckland boards. This seems to be necessary because they are neither "communities" nor local authorities in terms of the Local Government Act. But Hide's clause does not include the safeguard preventing the nomination of multiple individuals by absentees who own multiple properties, and it seems to be privileged above the general bar on multiple voting in the Local Electoral Act - with the net effect that "one person, one vote" is replaced with "one property, one vote". And as McCarten points out, this could shift the results decisively:

This is not a small matter. Almost a third of Aucklanders own or have an interest in a second property, while another third are renters. That potentially means that a third - the wealthiest - Aucklanders will be entitled to double the votes of the renting third. The region's poorest neighbourhoods currently have three-quarters of their houses owned by others. In Labour and Green strongholds in the inner city and the western suburbs of Manukau, absentee landlords would potentially outvote the locals. So much for citizens controlling their own communities.
If this bill goes through, people will be disenfranchised in their own communities, outvoted by absentees with a strong interest in undermining the services they depend on in order to minimise their rates bills. And that's simply not democratic.

But while the proximate cause is Hide's bill, the real problem is the archaic retention of "ratepayer electors" in the Local Electoral Act. Its time we did away with this, and returned to "one person, one vote", rather than giving the rich an unequal say.