Wednesday, June 26, 2019

We should not give extra votes to the rich

The basic principle of democracy is "one person, one vote". Everyone's voice counts equally. But our local government system obeys a different system of "one house, one vote" - effectively giving extra votes to the rich. While there are restrictions to ensure that people only vote once for mayor and councillors, in Auckland house-hoarders get to vote for each local board they own property in. And if they own a holiday home in the Coromandel or Queenstown, they get to vote there as well.

The latter can be quite distortionary. In Coromandel, absentee property-owners make up 5.5% of the electoral roll. But they are twice as likely to vote, so make up 10% of votes cast. And as Andrew Geddis points out, the interests of absentees, who are not part of a community but instead rent their property out or pop in a few times a year, are very different from the interests of people who actually live there:

"It's quite possible that they don't actually care that much about things like libraries, they don't care that much about things like roads and so on, because they're just not there that often. But what they do care about is keeping their rates low ... so you do see the potential for the divergence of interest to occur."

Ratepayer votes made sense when there was a property qualification for voting. But New Zealand dispensed with that and adopted democratic principles in 1893. Its time that our local government caught up. While its too late to do anything about it this election, we should make sure this is the last election where the rich get to vote twice. We should eliminate ratepayer voting now, and restore fundamental democratic principles: one person, one vote, and everyone is equal.