Bay voters buck election trends with high turnout

By Sophie Price

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Local Government New Zealand President Lawrence Yule believes the body can achieve a 50 per cent national turn out at this year's elections.
Local Government New Zealand President Lawrence Yule believes the body can achieve a 50 per cent national turn out at this year's elections.

Local voter turnout bucked the national trend in 2013, according to data released by the Department of Internal Affairs.

While the national average came in at just over 41 per cent, more than 45 per cent of people voted in Hastings District, 48 per cent in both Napier City and Ngaruroro, and 55 per cent in Central Hawke's Bay.

Wairoa was the standout with 62 per cent of people exercising their democratic right at election time.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) said voting numbers have been declining in many areas since the 1980s.

It was this trend that saw the body launch its Vote2016 campaign in January, in a bid to increase national ballot numbers to more than 50 per cent for the first time since 1988.

"After nearly two decades, our ambition is that local government could be elected by a majority of New Zealanders," LGNZ said.

The body's president Lawrence Yule was optimistic voter turnout would hit 50 per cent this year. "We think we can actually do it," he said.

He said main urban centres dragged the numbers down, with Auckland reporting a 31 per cent voter turnout in the 2013 elections.

"So what you tend to find is that rural and provincial numbers are higher, and the large city numbers are lower," he said.

"I think it is a size thing, smaller communities have more intimate knowledge of what councils do, they know the candidates better. I actually think they are more in touch with the issues."

He said this was why there could be more people who voted in Hawke's Bay.

"But it won't just be Hawke's Bay, I think if you go to many other parts of rural and provincial New Zealand it will be higher than the national average," he said.

Mr Yule said a major centre mayoralty race, such this year's one in Auckland, would most likely bring up the number of voters. "When there is a great interest in a mayoral campaign people vote more," he said.

Mr Yule said in order to improve these statistics the first step was to raise public awareness of the value of local government and the role it played in the lives of New Zealanders.

"Our aim is to grow citizens' understanding of the breadth of services delivered each day by local governments across New Zealand, and the impact those services have on their everyday lives," he said.

"By making that connection, we hope it inspires Kiwis to take a more proactive stance on the issues they care about in their communities."

As part of its research, LGNZ surveyed local body representatives nationwide about the importance of local government and what they saw as key issues facing their communities.

The body also wanted to understand what mattered most to Kiwis. For the voters in Hawke's Bay, freshwater management and land erosion are the key issues on this year's local authority election agenda.

Regional council chairman Fenton Wilson said despite its large quantities of freshwater, the region struggled at times of low flow and high demand.

"We are focusing on winter storage and a better understanding of Hawke's Bay's aquifers to help our community and enable sustainable production on our fantastic soils," he said.

- To know more about this year's elections visit: vote2016.co.nz.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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