The right to vote comes with inalienable responsibility

Danielle van Dalen

Danielle van Dalen

Auckland, October 13, 2020

As I hope that all New Zealand voters now know, we are currently being asked to decide not only who will lead of our nation for the next three years, but also whether the End of Life Choice Act should become law and whether the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill should be considered by Parliament.

This is not a role that the New Zealand public normally fills.

As I was discussing this with a friend recently, she made the comment that it is as if the New Zealand public have taken on the role of MPs. Her comment stuck with me as I have thought about what it means to vote in a referendum and the responsibility that we all now hold.

Consequences of voting

At its most basic, for example, voters need to be aware of the consequences of their vote, and the different processes to which the results would lead. That is, while the Cannabis Referendum is non-binding, the End of Life Choice Act referendum is binding.

This means two things. First, if more than 50% of voters are in favour of the End of Life Choice Act it will become law (if not, it will be repealed), while if more than 50% of voters are in favour of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill it will then be considered by Parliament and might become law. Second, while there is room for Parliament to make changes to the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, there are no further opportunities to amend the End of Life Choice Act.

The words currently on the page are what would become law.

If we are indeed taking on the role of MPs as we vote on these questions, it is also important that we pay attention to what responsible voting looks like, and recognise that it asks much more of us than simply walking into a booth and ticking a box.

Tickling the conscience

When I watch our politicians vote in the House of Representatives, particularly when they vote on conscience issues, I hope that they done their homework, engaged with a range of perspectives and research, asked questions, and carefully discussed the issue with others.

Similarly, as New Zealanders begin to vote on these two referenda questions, we also need to walk into those voting booths having done our homework, listened to different perspectives, asked questions, and talked about it with our friends and family. 

When voting, politicians are also expected to determine how their vote might more broadly impact the future of our society.

So, while it might be easy to think about the End of Life Choice Act and Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill in the context of how they might impact our own individual lives, it is important that we keep the bigger picture in mind as we vote.

As a nation, I hope that we remember the responsibility of what we are being asked to do and vote not only for ourselves, our family and friends, but also for our neighbours, local community, fellow citizens, and future generations of New Zealanders.

Danielle van Dalen is a Researcher at Maxim Institute based in Auckland.

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