Change needed for local elections

By Andrew Bonallack -
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A postal vote is a bit like that parking fine, that you don't pay right away.
A postal vote is a bit like that parking fine, that you don't pay right away.

As we move into the final week of postal voting, the gloomy prediction is that this year's local body elections will see the lowest national turnout yet.

We can take some comfort in that rural areas traditionally have a higher voter turnout than the big centres. Wairarapa's districts, for example, usually vote better than Wellington.

But I think the point, raised on TV3 news, that a postal vote system is not engaging voters, is a very good one.

A ballot box vote, on a specific voting day, has a sense of drama about it, and a sense of community as well.

A postal vote is a bit like that parking fine, that you don't pay right away.

You wait until you get that letter with the red trim on the top and the word "court", and then you sort it out.

But a ballot box vote is like a test match.

It's one day, with an exciting outcome.

On a voting day, candidates have to shut the hell up (literally, because it's illegal to campaign on that day), and the community gets to decide. There's a satisfying sense of righteous democracy on voting day, in that you visibly perform your duty, walk to a voting station, and meet other people doing the same thing. You're all united, with a common purpose, and there's a real sense of the people taking control.

I once interviewed a woman who remembered when black people were allowed to vote in South Africa. She described how uplifting the day was. Even though the queues were long, they were there together, as a community, sensing this was the day for change.

I also think candidates take ballot box voting days a lot more seriously. We only have to look at the lack-lustre campaigns here in Wairarapa, with many candidates clearly relying on past reputations and word of mouth. It's been mainly the regional council candidates, the Masterton mayoral candidates and some random licensing trust and DHB hopefuls who have made a significant effort.

Next year will be general elections, and we get our one day.

We definitely need that decisive day for our local bodies.

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