Voter turnout up in local elections

By Paul Harper

Photo / The Aucklander
Photo / The Aucklander

The Chatham Islands are home to New Zealand's most civic-minded citizens, with 71.3 per cent of the voting population turning out to vote in Saturday's local body election.

Overall there was a turnout of 47.5 per cent nationwide, up from 44 per cent three years ago.

After the Chatham Islands Council, the Mackenzie District Council had the next highest turnout, with 67.4 per cent, followed by the Kaikoura District Council with 63.9 per cent.

At the other end of the scale, the Waikato region had the lowest turnout. Only 30.8 per cent voted in the Waikato District Council elections, followed by 33.6 per cent in Hamilton City, and 35.6 per cent in the Western Bay of Plenty District.

In the first Auckland Council election there was a turnout of 50.5 per cent. In Wellington City, where the mayoral race was decided by special votes on Wednesday, 40.2 per cent of voters turned out.

In the high profile mayoral races of Christchurch and Invercargill, 51.8 percent and 58.31 per cent of voters turned out.

Meanwhile, a Massey University local government specialist predicts turnout in local body elections to continue to decline because of a "mishmash" of voting systems.

Associate professor Christine Cheyne, from the university's School of People, Environment and Planning, said overall figures indicate that the number of people voting at city, district and regional council level will continue to decline.

This year's turnout bucked a trend of declining turnouts in recent years. In 2001 there was a 50 per cent turnout, dropping to 46 per cent in 2004 and 44 per cent in 2007.

Dr Cheyne said the only "reasonable" turnouts in this year's elections were due to special factors, such as high-profile mayoral campaigns in Auckland and Christchurch, where there were contentious local issues, or because of a traditionally high voter turnout in smaller, mainly rural councils.

"It is likely that this will be a blip and will not be sustained," she said. "In many areas, election campaigns are not reaching enough people, particularly young people, Maori and many other ethnic communities, and there is generally poor understanding of the significance of local authority decisions."

She said it has almost been a decade since the Local Electoral Act 2001 was passed, but the current system is not fostering local democracy.

"The representativeness of our councils and the legitimacy of decision-making are being compromised by the current mishmash of voting systems.

"It's bizarre that proportional representation is mandated for district health board elections but is not considered important for council elections.

"It is unfortunate that STV [single transferrable voting] has been given poor press in some quarters resulting in voter misunderstanding or unease. Many voters want a more effective system of local elections and much can be done to ensure that it is much easier for people to exercise their democratic right to vote."

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