Call for big poll effort

By Jordan Bond

1 comment

Northlanders will vote to decide local mayors, councillors, and board members in just six months' time, with the region having a higher voter turnout than the national average.

The three-yearly local authority elections will take place on October 8 around the country, with Whangarei District Council's chief executive hoping for voter turnout levels to be "as high as possible".

"What local government does is really important. If you want to influence that you get a chance once every three years to decide on the people who are going to govern the district," WDC CEO Rob Forlong said.

The Whangarei voter turnout at the 2013 local government elections was 48 per cent, 7 per cent higher than the national average and just 1 per cent less than 2010.

Mr Forlong said transport, rates and infrastructure were important to many residents, and would be increasingly so as his area's population swelled.

"We are a provincial city on the cusp of being a significant urban area. How to deal with that growth is something people are starting to talk about," he said.

"How we match our expectations for services with our desire to not have rates increases is going to be a real issue for the community."

Voter turnout in local elections has been falling nationwide since the 1980s. Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) has launched a campaign to encourage people to participate, and hopes to lift turnout to above 50 per cent - which has not been done since 1998.

LGNZ president Lawrence Yule said the Vote 16 target was a "stretch" but he hoped the campaign could convince people to help shape their community.

"Their ability to vote can make a difference in what happens in their neighbourhood, and how their city, district or region is led," Mr Yule said. "A lot of people that are not interested may take it for granted, but this is a special right you have to vote."

Eight councils had applied to offer online voting, and although Mr Yule said similar trials hadn't improved turnout, it was about "future proofing" the country.

"As people do more and more things online, they are less and less reliant on the paper based system," he said.

Mr Yule said declining voter turnouts was a global phenomenon. Internationally, New Zealand's local election turnout percentage was higher than both Australia and England, but considerably lower than some countries, including Denmark and Norway.

Mr Yule said the chance to shape the community should be taken with both hands.

"This makes a difference. It takes a small amount of your time. Get to know some of the policies and candidates and exercise your vote. Some countries don't have this luxury, we need to use it."

- Northern Advocate

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