Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Local elections 2013: Low turnout spurs look at vote system

Compulsory voting and online options to be considered for future local elections.

Mr Tremain said the Government was working on a trial of online voting for a few councils in 2016. Photo / Duncan Brown
Mr Tremain said the Government was working on a trial of online voting for a few councils in 2016. Photo / Duncan Brown

Local Government Minister Chris Tremain is to look at fast-tracking plans to introduce electronic voting after the worst local body election turnout.

The turnout of about 40 per cent has again raised the topic of whether New Zealand should follow Australia's lead and make voting compulsory - an idea local body officials will now consider, although there is little support for it.

The previous turnout low was in 2007 when 44 per cent voted. The drop was mainly driven by the cities.

Turnout in Auckland dropped from 50 per cent to 34 per cent, in Dunedin from 52 per cent to 42 per cent and Christchurch dropped from 50 per cent to 41 per cent.

The drops in Auckland and Christchurch have partly been attributed to the lack of a close contest in the mayoralty race this year, and heightened turnouts in 2010 because of the Super City formation and Christchurch earthquakes.

The low turnout has increased calls to scrap postal voting and return to ballot boxes along with online voting - including from Auckland mayor Len Brown.

Mr Tremain said the Government was working on a trial of online voting for a few councils in 2016, and he would ask the working group to consider whether it could be trialled earlier so it could be offered across the country. But issues such as cost, security of information and access had to be taken into account.

He said several councils had put their hands up to trial it, and there had been further interest since the elections but he could not give an assurance that any council wanting it would be able to offer it.

Mr Tremain said compulsory voting was regularly put forward by some after a low turnout. "It's not on our agenda at this point in time."

He said the Department of Internal Affairs was likely to canvas it in its review of the elections, but any movement would require Cabinet sign-off.

Local Government NZ president and Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule said the turnout had surprised him, and it was time to look at all the options, although he did not support compulsory voting. He believed a shorter voting period and the use of ballot boxes and online voting rather than postal voting would help.

Those ideas were echoed by Mr Brown and Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker.

Failed Auckland mayoral candidate John Palino said the lack of transparency in council was the main reason for Auckland's low turnout.

- NZ Herald

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