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The need to vote

Policy and Information leader, Jonathan Tautari talks about the importance of voting in local elections.

There are many cynical views about democracy. Essentially democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally – either directly or through elected representatives – in the proposal, development, and creation of laws.

Sometimes, even when we do participate and elect representatives, to lead and shape our respective communities, the realisation of our individual hopes and desires can be seemingly lost or mixed together amongst other societal or community priorities. As a result, the policies, laws and strategies that ensue can become a strange hybrid, adrift from our life realities and perspective of how we believe our communities should be shaped and administered.

For disabled people the degree of separation between the way that central and local government is run, and their own realities, is even more pronounced. The resources and energy required to achieve the needs of the many always, and predictably, dominate local and central government politics. This is an unfortunate truth. It matters not how critical or acute a particular need is. Creating accessible transport, amenities or building options support a plethora of economic, educational, employment, health and social necessities for all of us, not just disabled people. Yet, these urgent requirements only scantily appear on the political radar.

Against this backdrop, disabled people often opt to withdraw their perspective and voice completely – preferring not to vote and participate in local or central government elections. In one sense this is understandable. However, whether people choose to be involved or not, politics has a tendency to impact on the daily lives of people regardless.

Throughout history there are a number of examples where certain groups have been prevented from taking part in elections, whether for reasons of gender, religion or ethnicity. We need to look no further than our own shores to see examples of this. Even though New Zealand was the first country to introduce universal suffrage, our murky past is scattered with incidences where groups have been excluded from voting.

Of course in most instances this exclusion has been legislated. Regretfully, for disabled people exclusion still happens despite universal suffrage. Even more regretful is that disabled people need not search through the pages of history to seek out examples, because it happens today. Inaccessible polling booths, inaccessible formats of voting papers and informational material equate to building barriers preventing political participation, not solutions. This needs to change.

The introduction of universal suffrage in New Zealand and in other countries throughout the world was obtained at a very high cost, in some cases, paid with years of struggle and unimaginable conflict and peoples lives. Surely, these struggles occurred to secure the right for all people to vote on an equal basis. Reflecting on these past struggles alone it seems difficult to rationalise public apathy towards getting out to vote.

I’m not one to subscribe to the commonly overused adage that ‘If you don’t vote, you can’t complain’ because, in some cases, abstaining from voting is a vote in itself. Unfortunately though, this presents a conundrum because I’m unsure if any prospective politicians will, soon after elected, listen or care about the silence caused by me not voting.

The only option left therefore is to fill that silence with an informed decision, based on a very personal judgement about candidates that best will create a world and a future that I can live with. Perhaps one day, after getting over the hangover caused by too many billboards, slogans and one-liners the night before, we may despair at how our own participation in democracy did not support the shaping the world or communities to our liking. But, at the very least, we can say we participated in a process that urges individuals, disabled and non-disabled alike, to reflect on their realities today and cast a vote to pledge for a future that is important to them.

The 2013 Local Body Elections are upon us and we are each charged with the responsibility to make a choice about those leaders within our respective communities who will best represent us. To honour this process we need to make an individual choice. This isn’t to say that our choice should only serve our individual needs. However, our decision, whatever it may be, needs to be based on an individual appraisal of what aligns best with our unique view of the world and communities.

There are so many candidates within our communities that are willing to lead, develop and create. We can choose to cast a vote or remain silent by not casting a vote. That is an individual choice too. I cannot help but think, as the majority shareholder of my own future, I am obliged to take this opportunity and cast my vote. The opportunity to share our voice is now and as someone once said “opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor”.

Read our newsletter special on the local elections here.

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