Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Voting in Mt Albert by-election starts today

Mt Albert By-Election bill boards in Auckland today. Photo / Doug Sherring
Mt Albert By-Election bill boards in Auckland today. Photo / Doug Sherring

Advance voting kicks off in the Mt Albert by-election today, but one of the main candidates is worried no one will turn up.

The contest is effectively a race between two left-wing candidates, Labour MP Jacinda Ardern and Green MP Julie Anne Genter.

Those two parties are working together until the election, and there is no mainstream right-wing party in the contest. The National Party decided against running, saying it is focused on the general election and that Mt Albert is a safe Labour seat.

In all there are thirteen candidates in the contest to replace former Labour MP David Shearer, who resigned in December to take up a United Nations posting in South Sudan.

Ardern has been door-knocking and holding meetings on street corners and cafes in Mt Albert, and said awareness about the February 25 by-election was "definitely an issue".

She has put the by-election date in a large font print on her Labour billboards to make it clear to constituents that there is a by-election on.

There is also a geographical problem, Ardern said. Many voters who lived in Westmere and Grey Lynn were unaware of a boundary change in 2014 which shifted them from the Auckland Central seat to Mt Albert.

"That's something I've been finding a lot. I had someone run down the street to tell me I was in the wrong area."

Ardern said voters' biggest concern in Mt Albert was housing - it is the seventh least-affordable electorate in New Zealand. With a median age of 33, many young people were struggling to get into a home or keep up with rent increases, she said.

Genter said that while Mt Albert constituents she had been speaking to were "generally quite happy", the main issues she had heard were about public transport and affordable housing. She said only a couple of voters had raised concerns with her about crime or the number of police officers on the beat - an issue which was the centrepiece of Prime Minister Bill English's State of the Nation speech.

Green Party MP Julie Anne Genter. Photo / Supplied
Green Party MP Julie Anne Genter. Photo / Supplied

Genter said she was not "overly" concerned about Gareth Morgan's The Opportunities Party (TOP) - which is also campaigning on environmental issues - eating into her vote.

"It's good to have more voices on these issues," she said.

TOP's candidate Geoff Simmons, a rank outsider, agreed that voters' worries about housing were "head and shoulders" above other concerns in Mt Albert. He is also campaigning for improved public transport and cleaner beaches, saying many voters were worried about the state of the Waitemata Harbour and other waterways.

Shearer won Mt Albert in 2014 with a majority of 10,656 votes. National got 14,360 party votes in the seat in 2014, ahead of Labour on 10,823 votes and the Green Party on 8005 votes.

IT'S JUST JACINDA

There is a notable absence on Labour MP Jacinda Ardern's campaign billboards - her last name.

The candidate for Mt Albert has put up Labour billboards which simply read "Jacinda for Mt Albert".

"I don't think it's a name recognition thing," she said. "It's just that I have a relatively unusual name."

"I know Mum and Dad when they named me wouldn't have thought about this, but not too many politicians have this name."

Labour Party MP Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Labour Party MP Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Mark Mitchell

There was an advantage to taking her family name off the billboard, she said - it freed up valuable space.

"You get a very brief moment when people are driving past to convey a message," she said.

"And one of the things we wanted to convey was when the by-election was and just that it affected Mt Albert."

The strategy will not extend to the ballot paper, where she does not want to give up her alphabetical advantage.

"The full name will be there, for sure."

Her main rival in Mt Albert, Julie Anne Genter, says she won't be going first-name-only any time soon.

"Julie Anne's a bit more common," she says, a little disappointed.

But she has her own campaign stunt - a specially-made electric bike which doubles as a billboard.

"It's awesome. I've been cycling around the electorate with it and it's been going really well."

The Opportunities Parties' Geoff Simmons, on the other hand, has taken a leaf out of Donald Trump's book.

His campaign van features a tweaked version of the US President's campaign slogan: "Make New Zealand Fair Again".

"I doubt he's trademarked that particular slogan," Simmons said, tempting fate.

Candidates

Amos Adam (independent)
Jacinda Ardern (Labour)
Dale Arthur (Independent)
Penny Bright (Independent)
Patrick Brown (Communist League)
Joe Carolan (Socialist - People Before Profit)
Julie Anne Genter (Green)
Abe Gray (The Cannabis Party)
Geoff Simmons (The Opportunities Party)
Simon Smythe (NAP)
Vin Tomar (New Zealand People's Party)
Anthony Van Den Heuvel (Human Rights Party)
Peter Wakeman (Independent)

Where to cast advance votes

Grey Lynn Community Centre, 510 Richmond Rd
Mt Albert Presbyterian Church Hall, 14 Mt Albert Rd
Pt Chevalier Library, 1221 Great North Rd
Eden-Albert Citizens Advice Bureau, 82 St Lukes Rd

Key dates

Advance voting begins: Today
First candidates' debate: Wednesday
By-election day: Saturday 25 February

- NZ Herald

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