Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Partial participation for partial residents?

A challenge for governments today (particularly local ones) is how to consider the views of non-residents, people who travel into their jurisdictions for work, entertainment or other reasons.

While consulting them within formal processes is possible, it can be hard to engage them beyond the most cursory involvent in local issues, even when many of the decisions in a town, city or state significantly affect their livelihood or welfare.

This is already a topic amongst many of the local governments I speak to, who must weigh the interests of people who travel from nearby council areas to work in their jurisdictions. These people may be spending from a quarter to half their time within the jurisdiction they work in, accessing local services such as roads and parking, libraries, public toilets, parks and civic offices.

Equally local residents may do nothing more than physically live in a jurisdiction - accessing many or most of the services they need from a neighboring jurisdiction. With border towns in Victoria, New South Wales ACT and Queensland residents may be accessing most services from another state.

Society has evolved methods for accounting for the cost of these services, through user-pays schemes and border agreements, however methods for recognising a non-resident, or rather a partial-resident's stake in decision making processes are still limited, possibly because it required significant technology to accurately estimate how much time a person spent within a jurisdiction and account for this in decision making.

So as society moves towards a 24/7 awareness of where individuals spend their time, via GPS in mobile devices, should governments reconsider the basis of the decision on who gets a say in elections,? Considering time spent in a jurisdiction rather than, or in addition to, land-ownership, residency or citizenship.

Let's consider how this might work.

If a resident of one jurisdiction works in another, they could use their mobile device to record their location over a period of time like a log book or diary - which many drivers keep for tax purposes.

After a significant time period (mayb a month or two) they would register their location with the councils where they spent most of their time, so they can be assessed as a  'partial-resident, entitled to vote in council elections with a fractional vote representing the time they spend in the region.

With the right ICT systems this would not be excessively hard to track - perhaps to offset costs people who wish to be considered partial residents would be required to cross a time spent threshold (maybe 10%) and be charged a fee based on this percentage, which offsets the cost of the services they use (unless they can prove they should get a waiver based on appropriate grounds).

On being registered, partial-residents would be entitled to vote in local elections, however their vote will only count proportionate to the registered amount of time they spend in the jurisdiction.

Full-time residents will get full votes, meaning that an issue would need to be particularly large for partial-residents to change the outcome of an election.

This might be an unworkable system - I can think of several ways it could be gamed that would need careful thought. However the question is a valid one - with people increasingly travelling to work and play, how do governments ensure they have an appropriate say in local decisions?

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