New campaign aims to increase voter turnout

By John Maslin

1 comment
Photo/File
Photo/File

Whanganui voter turnout for local body elections may be among the strongest in the country but, like most other regions, that interest continues to wane.

And it's this continuing voter apathy that Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) wants to arrest and turn around in this year's elections.

Compared to most other districts, Whanganui is among the few areas where voter turnout has continued to run well above the national average.

But, even so, voter involvement for the past three local body elections has shown a continuing decline.

There were 30,643 voters on the Whanganui District roll in 2007 and of those 19,392 - that's 63 per cent - made the effort to cast their vote.

Three years later and 60 per cent of the 31,037 enrolled (18,740) voted.

Fast forward to 2013 and the roll had increased to 31,061 and 18,158 bothered to get to the polling booths.

That's 58 per cent.

The trend is obvious - while the number of Whanganui District voters has been climbing, the numbers taking time to vote continues to track downward.

LGNZ has launched its "Vote16NZ" campaign, trying to bring about a positive change before October's local body elections.

It aims to lift voting above 50 per cent nationally for the first time since 1998.

The campaign is based on domestic and international research about who is voting, who isn't voting, why they aren't voting and what will influence them to vote.

And there will be a strong focus on younger voters.

In 2013 the total national voter turnout was 41.3 per cent.

In the 2010 elections the highest voter turnout was in the 70-plus age group (89 per cent) and lowest was in the 18-29 age group (34 per cent).

The main reasons people give for not voting is not knowing enough about the candidates, forgot or left it too late, with others saying they were not interested or were too busy.

Lawrence Yule, LGNZ president, said the campaign wanted to raise public awareness of the value of local government and the role it plays in the everyday lives of New Zealanders.

Mr Yule said creating a larger pool of skilled candidates was another key step to improving local democracy and ensuring the value local government delivers to its communities remains high.

"Local government in New Zealand faces major challenges, from environmental issues to major infrastructure replacement and we need to ensure elected representatives have the abilities, training and diversity of skills to rise to these challenges," he said.

An initiative that could be tried this election is online voting. Government still has to decide if the trial will happen.

Whanganui District Council is one of eight local authorities set to take part in the trial.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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