Elections make some people say some silly things

Advance voting began today, and in two weeks time the whole shouting match will be done. None to soon, given the effect it seems to be having on some people.

Warning - second half of this post contains discussion of suicide in the context of medical aid in dying.

The pressure of the election campaign seems to be getting to some people, as we've seen a couple of pretty silly comments made in the last couple of days.

First of all we have Matthew Hooton, who never allows a lack of understanding of an issue get in the way of a good conspiracy yarn. In the course today's Radio NZ Nine-to-Noon show,  Hooton had this to say about why he thought National is on course to lose the election (from the 3'00" mark):

The Electoral Commission is deliberately targetting people who are under 30. The advance polling stations are already in places where you would expect Labour and Green voters to be. So it's Auckland University, for example, rather than the foyer of the Vero Centre is where the Auckland Central advance voting position is. And clearly ... the Electoral Commission wants young voters to vote and they're believed more likely to vote for Jacinda Ardern.

Gosh - that sounds pretty serious ... almost like a claim that the Electoral Commission deliberately has chosen to act in a way intended to deliver the election to Labour. Could it possibly be true?

Well, it is true that there's an advance voting booth on Auckland University's campus to service its over 30,000 students (and over 5000 staff) - which, we may note, likely is a few more people than come to work in the Vero Center each day. But it isn't true to say (or imply) that this is the advance voting place for all of Auckland Central's voters. It's one of seventeen places at which voters enrolled in Auckland Central may cast advance votes.

And all those over-30 National supporting voters aren't exactly left without options. They can cast their vote at the Atrium at Takutai Square. They can cast their vote at the All Saints Anglican Church on Ponsonby Road. They can even cast their vote at the Remuera Bowling Club, for crying out loud!

So much for any idea that the Electoral Commission only puts its voting places where young people tend to go.

Furthermore, insofar as there is "deliberate tagetting" by the Electoral Commission of people under 30, this isn't exactly a new strategy it cooked up on its own to advantage Labour. It's not exactly news that those under thirty have far worse enrolment and voting statistics than those over thirty.  And having been appraised those facts, here's what Parliament's Justice and Electoral Commission recommended following the 2014 General Election:

We recommend that the Government make promoting voter enrolment a whole-of-government priority with government agencies working together to facilitate enrolment. 

And further:

We recommend that the Government improve accessibility to advance voting places by increasing their numbers and opening hours, and providing greater consistency, as far as is practical, between advance voting places and voting places on election day.  

To which the National Government responded:

[T]he Government agrees that declining voter enrolment and turnout needs to be addressed. The Government notes that while the Electoral Commission might lead this work, it will require dedicated input from a wide range of stakeholders. The Government will encourage other government agencies, and other key stakeholders as appropriate, to work more closely with the Commission to increase enrolment and turnout. 

So, you know ... when the Electoral Commission goes out and tries to get those under thirty to comply with their legal obligation by enrolling to vote and then provides places where they can actually cast votes (along with places where other demographics also can cast votes), it looks to me like it's doing exactly what Parliament and the Government want it to do. But I guess that isn't a very interesting line for a controversial, clear sighted, tell-it-like-it-is pundit to hoot over the radio.

The second pretty silly election related comment came from National MP Simon O'Connor, who responded to Jacinda Ardern's support on Sunday of anti-youth suicide measures by writing on Facebook:

It's strange that Jacinda is so concerned about youth suicide but is happy to encourage the suicide of the elderly, disabled, and sick. Perhaps she just values one group more than the others?

He then followed up by answering comments critical of his original post:

I am not demeaning her sincerity, I am questioning it. You cannot be opposed to suicide for some in society, while happily advocating suicide for others. She has been on record supporting the suicide of the sick, elderly, and disabled. Either she is opposed to suicide or she is not. I look forward to her opposition to Seymour's bill.

We can put aside the political wisdom of a National Party MP wanting to so publicly inject his personal strong opposition to euthanasia reform (a policy that some 2/3rds to 3/4ths of voters say they support) into the election campaign. The fact that Bill English apparently has texted him and told him to shut up on the issue pretty much deals with that point.

Rather, the silliness of O'Connor's statement lies both in how he portrays Ardern's stance and in his drawing a false equivalence between two quite different forms of intentional dying.

First, Ardern's support for changing the law to permit euthanasia/medically assisted suicide/aid in dying isn't "encouraging" anyone to do anything. It rather makes legal a choice that qualifying individuals then may make for themselves ... whether they actually do choose to actively end their lives remains entirely their concern.

If a National Party MP conflates this "letting people decide for themselves" with positively "encouraging them to do things", then he seems to have misunderstood what his own party's professed commitment to "Individual freedom and choice" means.

Second, it simply is silly to say that a healthy young people who ends her/his own life is "the same as" a person facing a terminal or intractable medical condition that causes suffering that cannot be remediated doing so. Put it this way - would you run the same suicide prevention programme for each? Would you address the same issues if counselling each?

So saying "they are both suicides" is like saying a person working under an employment contract is "the same as" a slave because they both are expected to follow the orders of the person for whom they work. Or, a police officer who shoots an armed offender is "the same as" a man who shoots his wife because they both have committed "homicide".

Now, that's not to say that there are no potential arguments against permitting euthanasia/medically assisted suicide/aid in dying (arguments such as slippery slopes/effect on vulnerable others/consequences for the medical profession/etc). I'm not convinced by them - as I argue in this article here - but I can respect them.

But an argument that says "if you don't support young people committing suicide, you also must oppose terminally ill or badly suffering people ending their lives"? That's just a bit silly, I'm afraid.

Where to get help

Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354
Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757
Healthline (open 24/7) - 0800 611 116
Samaritans (open 24/7) - 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email talk@youthline.co.nz
0800 WHATSUP children's helpline - phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.
Kidsline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.
Your local Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)
Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.