I live in the Maungakiekie electorate, in the shadow of One Tree Hill. My family and I love it here. We walk the local streets, talk with our neighbours, and generally take an interest in what's going on in our community. We care about this place. I care about this place.
This election I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to choose to cast my electorate vote for one of a number of quality candidates to represent me and my community in Parliament. While not all would necessarily be described as high profile, the candidates from each of the 3 major parties (National, Labour and the Greens) were up and coming politicians with a huge future ahead of them.
Choosing a representative for me and my community is something that I take seriously. Despite the obvious political talent on display, I got the distinct impression that there wasn't a strong contest for my electorate vote. While it was very pleasing that the Labour candidate made an effort to engage with me personally, the National candidate did little more than deliver generic National Party campaign material to our electorate and the Green candidate went as far as to confirm through social media that her primary goal was to secure the party vote. It seemed that it was a campaign for the party vote first, and the electorate vote was a distant second.
I found that approach disappointing. I can understand that under our MMP voting system the party vote matters. The party vote determines the percentage of seats that each party gets in the House, and so feeds directly into the calculus of which parties get the opportunity to form a government. But the electorate vote matters, too. Your electorate vote matters. And because the importance of the electorate vote wasn't emphasised during the campaign, below I want to briefly outline my thoughts as to why it matters.
Some electorate contests are strategically important
The obvious - and I think least important - point is that some electorate contests can themselves change the government formation calculus. The most high profile example of this is, of course, Epsom. The Act Party only survived as a Parliamentary political party this election because its leader won the seat of Epsom. Whether this is because of strategic voting by National supporters or because the people of Epsom think that David Seymour represents them well, the result is the same.
Local issues are national issues
A better reason to believe that the electorate vote matters is because local issues are important. In a small democracy with a very thin layer of government, central government support is often necessary to solve the issues that affect local communities. The Ruataniwha irrigation project is a great example of a local issue with national significance. The representatives of the communities directly affected by the go-no go decision on that project have the opportunity to influence the position of central government in a meaningful way. Having a seat at the table, or running a well coordinated Opposition campaign can each bring the power of national politics to bear on local issues.
Citizens matter more than political parties
A third reason to view the electorate vote as important is because citizens are important. The voice in the national conversation through their elected representatives is a vital piece of a working, credible democracy. Electorate candidates directly represent voters as their representative in a way that list (and list-only) candidates do not. That's something we should celebrate in our democracy.
Because of this direct representation from electorate votes and its democratic value, preferring the party vote over the electorate vote is something that I would argue ought to be viewed with some suspicion. If political parties focus on party votes to the detriment of electorate votes, then I think those political parties are in some meaningful way preferring their own interests over the representation citizens and their interests. Voting may be in part about choosing a government, but it is also about choosing people who speak for us in a much more direct way.
Local democracy matters
Finally, I think electorate votes matter because if we want to get serious about getting citizens engaged with democracy, we need to show people that democracy works on a local level. Electorate voting is a key part of that. Even in a small democracy the power distance between the government and the governed can be difficult to bridge. If we vote locally and see the results of that voting come to fruition in tangible ways, then the success of democracy writ small is likely to result in faith in democracy writ large.
I had these factors in mind when I cast my electorate vote in this election. I voted for a candidate who I felt actually wanted to represent me. In a way I was lucky, because all 3 candidates I mentioned earlier made it into Parliament one way or another. But if they all stand in my electorate in 3 years time I hope they will all want my vote, and show that in the way they campaign. It matters to me, and to our democracy, that they do.