A slightly odd headline at the Herald this morning:
Revealed: Plots to gerrymander flag referendum
Four shortlisted flag designs will be put to the vote in November but plots to gerrymander the referendum results are already under way.
Deborah Russell’s response makes the point pretty clearly:
See, the chair of the Flag Consideration Panel, John Burrows, doesn’t like the fact that people are saying he did a piss-poor job, by delivering a shortlist of two practically-identical, already-commercially-used silver ferns, one already–used-by-apparently–everyone silver fern, and the plainest, least-scarily-“cultural” koru in existence (All hail Hypnoflag!).
“I hope there won’t be much gerrymandering because I think people have got to see what an important occasion this is.
“It’s the one chance people have in their lifetimes to do it. So to actually waste a vote for political or other reasons I think will appear to most people as unpalatable and unattractive.”
Indeed, god forbid people get political about the sovereign symbol of their nation’s identity.
There’s a worrying idea at work here, and it’s become a familiar one since John Key became Prime Minister: democracy is only democracy when people are forced to participate and deliver the results John Key wants.
So it’s not democratic when the people of Canterbury elect a regional council which wants to impose restrictions on just how much the farming sector can plunder natural resources. Out they go. It’s not democratic when thousands of people march against the TPPA because they’re just a “rent-a-crowd”.
And it’s definitely not democratic for people to refuse to hush, keep their heads down, and give John Key the flag he clearly wants. Frankly, how dare you think that the democratic process of determining what flag flies in our country’s name involves you having any kind of say in the process? How dare you think that you have some kind of right to protest the obviously rigged competition being run in your name?
Spoiling a ballot paper or refusing to fill one out is not gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is a process for the powerful to entrench their power by rendering the votes of the people meaningless. Gerrymandering, in fact, could look a lot like giving people an incredibly limited set of options and bullying them into taking part by attacking their patriotism if they don’t.
Oh god, is this whole flag referendum is a metaphor for First Past the Post?
Vote however the heck you want to, people. Vote for the design you like best. Vote for the design you think has the best, or worst, chance of winning the final showdown against our current one. Randomly assign numbers. Flip a coin if you really just like filling out boxes.
But remember: Not voting can also be an act of democratic participation. Whether that means you just don’t “show up” (I know, it’s a postal ballot) or you deliberate spoil your ballot by (ideas I’ve actually seen): writing “I want our flag” on your ballot, crossing out all the options, or stapling a copy of your preferred flag design to the ballot paper – if you’re making a choice not to play John Key’s game, you’re sending just as powerful a message.
When the people in charge are getting upset because a lot of ordinary folk are saying things they don’t like, and have the power to create change: you’re doing something very, very right.
A side note: This is also why I reject the condescending way some on the left talk about non-voters – the “sleepy hobbits” attitude. Choosing not to exercise your vote because you do not have trust in the system, or because there are no options offered which you support, is as much a political act as voting. Our current system doesn’t offer a “no vote” or “no confidence” option. I think it should. Until it does, we have no way of determining whether or not someone’s lack of voting is indicative of laziness or active dissatisfaction, and we shouldn’t make assumptions about it to justify our elitist posturing.