Councillor: Low voter turnout shows mistrust

By Alexandra Newlove

3 comments
Councillor Stuart Bell says people don't want to engage with councils, as they don't trust them. PHOTO/MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM
Councillor Stuart Bell says people don't want to engage with councils, as they don't trust them. PHOTO/MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM

Northland has failed to buck the trend of declining voter turnout, despite a multi-council campaign aimed at getting people to the ballot box.

In Whangarei, voter turnout in the local election fell from 49.7 per cent in 2010, 47.7 per cent in 2013, to 44.4 per cent this year. Polling closed on Saturday.

The four Northland councils had joined forces on a campaign called "true locals" aimed at younger residents, which used a diverse mix of local faces with a strong online and social media focus.

Recently re-elected Whangarei district councillor Stuart Bell had campaigned on better engagement and said "if people are disengaged, it doesn't matter how much advertising you do".

In the Far North, 46.9 per cent turned out in 2010, 48.8 per cent in 2013 and 41.5 per cent this year. Kaipara did not elect a district council in 2013 but turnout there was 47.1 per cent this year, compared to 53.5 per cent in 2010.

Northland fared better than much of the rest of the country, with national voter turnout just 40.3 per cent. Rates tended to be slightly higher in rural and provincial districts.

Northland Regional Council governance support manager Chris Taylor said the national aim this year had been a 50 per cent turnout.

"Unfortunately, we didn't quite get there," she said. "We didn't get the option of online voting this time. I think the continual decline is going to push the argument we need to look at other ways for people to vote."

Much ado had been made about a online voting trial which was canned by the Government earlier this year amidst security concerns. Mr Bell said he was sceptical as to whether a different process would make much difference.

Low voter turnout was down to systemic problems which shut people out of local government decision making in the three years between elections, he said.

"The only way you are going to combat [low turnout] is reconnect the communities with the councils."

He said there seemed to be a growing mistrust of councils and being more transparent would help address this, he said.

"Why would you bother if you think your vote is not going to make change because councils are corrupt and behind closed doors?"

Teaching civics in schools would be a good starting point for engaging voters from a young age, Mr Bell said.

- Northern Advocate

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