Turnout the big issue

By Doug Laing

1 comment
ARE YOU ENROLLED: Napier City councillor Maxine Boag is concerned about low voter turnouts. In 2013, she claimed a landslide victory with less than 20 per cent support of eligible voters. PHOTO/FILE
ARE YOU ENROLLED: Napier City councillor Maxine Boag is concerned about low voter turnouts. In 2013, she claimed a landslide victory with less than 20 per cent support of eligible voters. PHOTO/FILE

IF THERE'S one great legacy of the Hawke's Bay Amalgamation referendum in September last year it's in the number who made the effort to vote - about 35 per cent more than those who voted at the 2013 Local Elections in the region.

The big question is will that increased interest be reflected in this year's elections for mayors, councillors and members of health boards and some other statutory bodies?

The referendum 10 months ago attracted 69,861 voters in Napier and Hastings, Wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay district council areas, more than 62 per cent of those on the rolls and which compared with the 51,626 who made the effort three years ago in the local elections, otherwise known as local body elections or local government elections.

Such turnouts as that last year are generally unheard of in the triennial local elections, where the public get to elect their mayor and councillors, along with an array of other representatives on such bodies as the regional council and the district health board.

The smaller districts hold their heads up, with voting in Wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay, for example, hovering above 55 per cent of those on the rolls. But turnouts in Napier and Hastings have been below half of those eligible for many years, leaving politicians and election officials divided on whether the shift from polling booth voting to postal voting was a step too far, or whether it should take another leap towards online voting with your mobile phone or whatever other device happens upon us at the time.

That the number of Napier and Hastings people who voted in last year's referendum totalled about 16,000 more than had voted in their local government elections in 2013 is a point not lost on two-term Napier City councillor Maxine Boag, whose campaign is as much about getting people to take up their democratic right to vote as it is about getting them to support her own aspirations.

She is one of two representatives in the Nelson Park ward, which incorporates comprises Napier South, Onekawa South, Maraenui, areas of Pirimai and Marewa south of Kennedy Rd, and the northern most part of Awatoto, and got back in with almost double the number of votes for fellow successful candidate and new councillor Mark Hamilton: Boag 2041, Hamilton 1051.

A landslide, maybe, but Ms Boag looks it another way, with the 4238 voter turnout in the ward being just 37 per cent of those eligible, a significantly lower turnout than other wards Taradale, Ahuriri and Onekawa-Tamatea.

"That means I had the votes of less than 20 per cent of those eligible to vote," she said. "That's not much of a mandate really, is it?"

For several weeks before nominations opened on July 15, Ms Boag and supporters had been taking to the streets getting people to make sure they are on the roll and are aware of the upcoming elections, whether in her ward, the city of Napier, elsewhere in Hawke's Bay, or even further afield.

The experience covers a range of people who may not receive the relevant mail, because they've changed addresses, or the mail has melded into a pile of other junk that's come through the letterbox, to those who dismiss the election as being irrelevant to them.

They don't know the people, or the issues, and sometimes, particularly if they don't own land and buildings, they don't think they're included, or entitled to vote. It can, she says, be quite daunting, but she says everyone has the right, and she'd like everyone to take it up.

"It's one thing to make sure they're on the roll, but it's another getting them to vote," she says.

Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule, who is also president of Local Government New Zealand, the collective of local councils, says it doesn't necessarily follow that because the referendum vote was high there will be an increase in local election voting.

"I hope it has some effect, but I am doubtful," he says, highlighting the simplicity that attracts more to referenda, usually a Yes or No vote without the complexities of different people, positions and issues.

He says that in local elections people will "come out and vote" if they're unhappy about specific topics, such as "a major project that's gone wrong", or if there's a "strong" mayoral race, as in a strident campaign to reject the incumbent, or a big field following the retirement of a mayor.

Napier mayor Bill Dalton, who signalled last November he'd stand for one last term, wondered when just three people turned up on Wednesday night to a meeting for people considering becoming candidates, which was part of the campaign to increase awareness in local elections.

He said it's "quite possible" the raised awareness evident in the referendum will have some follow-on to this year's election. "But it's difficult to say, it's early days," he said, with 20 days to go from today until nominations close and another 57 before he knows whether he's still got a job.

The Electoral Commission mailed enrolment update packs to 3.1 million people on electoral rolls throughout the country at the end of June, to make sure all those who are eligible are correctly enrolled to vote.

More than 135,000 people have updated their enrolment details since the start of the Electoral Commission's enrolment update campaign, but by early this week about 20,000 packs had bounced back "Gone No Address", and according to the Electoral Commission there are still tens of thousands of New Zealanders who will miss out on the chance to vote unless they re-enrol "now".

"If you are one of the 20,000 or so voters whose pack has come back to us because you've moved house and not updated your enrolment details, you have been removed from the electoral roll, and won't be able to vote unless you re-enrol," said chief electoral officer Robert Peden.

People must enrol or update their details by August 12 to receive their voting papers in the mail. Those enrolling after August 12 will need to contact their local council for voting papers.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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