As well as picking up a carton of milk and a loaf of bread at the supermarket, voters in New Zealand will also be able to pick their new prime minister at the next election, after a shake-up of voting laws allowed for ballot boxes to be placed in busy shops and malls.
The new regulations announced this week will also allow same-day registration and voting.
One in five eligible people did not vote in the 2017 election which saw Labour’s Jacinda Ardern elected.
Under New Zealand’s MMP voting system, Ardern formed a coalition government with New Zealand First and the Green Party, despite the centre-right National party winning more votes than Labour on the day. Justice minister Andrew Little said the changes would make voting easier and more democratic in 2020, with eligible voters being allowed to enrol and vote on the same day, and voting stations being erected in busy public places such as supermarkets and malls, in addition to the usual churches, schools and council halls.
The changes are being adopted following recommendations from the electoral commission, with the primary motivation to encourage more eligible New Zealanders to have their say. “Putting ballot boxes in supermarkets and malls will make it easier for people to vote,” said Little.
“It’s important that ballot boxes are placed where people are going about their normal business and can therefore accommodate voting more easily into their busy lives,”
The opposition National party has condemned the changes, saying they will favour the left-leaning parties, such as Labour and the Greens, and describing the move as something more often seen in a “banana republic”.
“They have cherry-picked those recommendations from the electoral commission which support the coalition [government],” said National’s electoral issues spokesman Nick Smith.
“We’re wanting high levels of participation in our elections but we’re also wanting integrity in the vote. We want to make sure it is those people that are legally entitled to vote.”
Greens MP Golriz Ghahraman, who is a strong advocate for increasing voter eligibility, supported the changes and said it was a move towards a more accessible and inclusive democratic process. Voter turnout increased across all age groups in the 2017 general election, according to the electoral commission, with a notable 6.5% increase in younger voters – the much touted “youth quake” targeted by Ardern.