Meddling Kiwis and the push for overseas votes
Every Kiwi Vote Counts is a non-partisan campaign with the purpose of encouraging overseas voter participation. The campaign centres around Viktor, the Russian man encouraging Kiwi voters to meddle in the New Zealand Election. With an historically low voter turn out, Every Kiwi Vote Counts helped increase offshore enrolment by 24% and online vote by 50%. We spoke to Tracey Lee, the initiator and director of the campaign, about her motivations and how the campaign went.
What were your motivations behind creating the ‘Every Kiwi Vote Counts’ campaign, and the Russian interference theme?
I’m a long time overseas voter mobiliser but, in the midst of the turmoil that is 2020, it didn’t seem nearly sufficient to simply be nudging my social network. As a brand strategist, I’m in the business of changing hearts, minds and ultimately actions through creativity. It seemed predestined these two passions should come together and unite for democracy. My fantastic creative partners, Special Group, joined me in the cause.
Viktor came about because the inertia of overseas non-voters was so great – with only an estimated 1 in 10 eligible voters voting in the last election – that we needed something very provocative to wake them up. There was something ironic and shocking, and obviously topical, about the fact that other nation states, like Russia (and Iran and China), were more interested in influencing offshore elections than New Zealand citizens.
Underneath the disruptive Viktor films and on everykiwivotecounts.nz were punchy, mythbusting facts about the scale (+20% of New Zealand’s population), ability and ease (online!) of voting from overseas that many kiwis seemed unaware of, shared through overseas kiwi social networks, including Kea.
The biggest breakthrough was speaking to overseas kiwis in an arresting way and inciting them to vote. I don’t think they necessarily felt empowered or emboldened to previously.
Why do you think it’s so important that offshore Kiwis vote, when many would argue that they’re not affected by the outcome?
I talked about the critical importance in my Spinoff Op Ed, “Why overseas meddling in the New Zealand election is good for everybody’. We have an overseas population of 1M kiwis: the equivalent of the electoral population of the South Island or 10x most electorates. New Zealanders have been adventuring around the world and back again since time immemorial. Our global outlook and ambition is part of what makes us us. That global perspective is uniquely helpful as we navigate forward as a nation. Particularly when you consider a quarter of our tertiary educated population is offshore. Don’t we want all of our citizens and bright minds considering where we’re heading together long term?
As for not being affected – we know that overseas New Zealanders have families, businesses, investments and networks home in New Zealand. We tend to be home regularly (and eligibility to vote demands it, with the 3-year rule). Many of us indeed intend to come home, as Kea’s Welcome Home Survey explores. As New Zealand citizens, we are affected by the long term impacts of political choices. We’re also a positive force for making decisions with the long-term in mind.
Enrolment increased 24% and online voting for overseas Kiwis jumped 50% compared to the last election. Did you expect this massive increase in offshore voter engagement, and what other factors do you think could have influenced it?
This was a perfect storm for encouraging participation. The political backdrop and the pandemic meant New Zealanders were looking home with more attention and urgency, so you would hope more Kiwis would become engaged, Viktor or no Viktor. We definitely opened the floodgates, though, judging by the thousands of comments about Kiwis voting for the first time since they’d been overseas.
This is the third election with online enrolment and voting and yet so many were still under the impression the process was complicated and postal or in-person. Viktor welcomed in a new wave overseas voters, even more than we’ll see reflected in the tally today, given 100,000 overseas New Zealanders have returned to New Zealand between March – Aug of this year. We’re going to take some quiet credit in the surge of domestic votes too!
Were there any other surprises to come out of this campaign, positive or negative?
One of the loveliest surprises is how Kiwis stepped in to help mobilize the overseas vote. Either via sharing, nudging their overseas friends or in answering questions and helping new voters on our social channels. I’d wake up to followers having stepped in to respond to other followers while NZ slept, before we had a chance to.
Negative? We fielded a couple thoughtful complaints from Russian individuals but also had SBS Russian in Australia reach out and a largely warm reception by the Russian community. The Russian actor who played Viktor is quite famous from his younger days in Russia and it was a delight to see him getting love for bringing warmth and heart to voter mobilization ‘during gloomy times’.
What are you most proud of from Every Kiwi Vote Counts?
I’m proud that Every Kiwi Vote Counts has opened up a bigger conversation about the engagement of the team of six million. I had done a thesis on returning Kiwis seven years ago and it felt very much like we weren’t quite ready for that conversation. I am heartened that we’re now having productive conversations about harnessing the brain gain as New Zealanders flood home and how we might meaningfully connect and represent our overseas Kiwis. Every Kiwi Vote Counts has been an important step in turning our sights to the need for a minister for overseas Kiwis and a referendum for global electorates, as eleven other countries have. Onwards.