Constituting the Democratic Public: New Zealand's Extension of National Voting Rights to Non-Citizens
New Zealand Journal of Public and International Law, Volume 12, No. 1, 2014, Forthcoming
23 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2014
Date Written: April 24, 2014
Constituting the political community is a fundamental condition for the acts of ‘self’-government that characterise democracies. Numerous philosophical and practical considerations underpin decisions about who to include in, and exclude from, the political community. In one respect, New Zealand’s political membership is particularly liberal: it allows permanent residents to vote in national elections after only one year’s residence. Only three other countries, Chile, Malawi, and Uruguay, also allow non-citizens to vote in national elections, but have residency requirements of five, seven and eight years respectively.
Little scholarly work, and even less public attention, has been devoted to why New Zealand extended the franchise to non-citizens in 1975, and to the political and social consequences of it doing so. This is puzzling in light of the fierce political debates about non-citizen voting that occur internationally, as many societies grapple with the question of whether, and how, large non-citizen immigrant populations should be included in the formal political community. The New Zealand case is of interest to political scientists internationally due to its uniqueness. It is also of interest to constitutional scholars in New Zealand and abroad because it illustrates concretely the interplay of different philosophies and traditions that have shaped New Zealand’s constitutional foundations and practice over time.
This article examines New Zealand's decision to grant non-citizens national voting rights and considers the question of whether the 1975 decision was the product of a peculiarly liberal impulse in New Zealand politics, or was another example of ad-hoc, pragmatic and reactive decision making with profound, albeit unintended, political consequences.
Keywords: New Zealand, constitution, voting rights, non-citizens
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