Voters urged to have a say

By Jordan Bond

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THE VOTES ARE IN: Annette Main receives the mayoral chain of office from then chief executive Kevin Ross after the October 2013 election.PHOTO/FILE
THE VOTES ARE IN: Annette Main receives the mayoral chain of office from then chief executive Kevin Ross after the October 2013 election.PHOTO/FILE

Whanganui residents will be voting in the local body elections in just six months - and departing mayor Annette Main is hoping for the highest turnout in the country.

The three-yearly elections to decide the mayor, councillors and health and community board members will take place on October 8.

Despite Whanganui's last voter turnout being one of the highest in New Zealand, Ms Main hopes even more people will vote. While she is not seeking re-election, she would be "thrilled" if the strong 2013 turnout of 59 per cent could be lifted to 70 per cent this year.

The key to a high turnout was face-to-face contact between candidates and voters, she said.

"It's very difficult to just get your booklet, read a paragraph about somebody and vote," Ms Main said. "I believe if people really want to understand who's standing and why they're standing, candidates should get out and meet them.

"I'm hearing from people that they really want someone with experience across the community - not just somebody campaigning on a single issue. They're looking for people who have shown a real interest in their community."

Ms Main said the growth and economic development of the city was likely to interest many voters.

Voter turnout in local elections has been falling nationwide since the 1980s, and dropped to a nationwide average of 41 per cent in 2013.

Local Government New Zealand has launched a campaign to encourage participation, and hopes to lift turnout to above 50 per cent - which hasn't been done since 1998.

Local Government NZ president Lawrence Yule said the Vote 16 target was a "stretch", but he hoped the campaign could convince people to take part in shaping their community.

"Their ability to vote can make a difference in what happens in their neighbourhood, and how their city, district or region is led. A lot of people who are not interested may take it for granted, but this is a special right you have to vote."

Eight councils had applied to offer online voting, and although similar trials hadn't improved turnout, it was about "future-proofing" the country, Mr Yule said.

"As people do more and more things online, they are less and less reliant on the paper based system."

Mr Yule said declining voter turnouts was a global phenomenon. Internationally, New Zealand's local election turnout percentage was higher than both Australia and England, but considerably lower than some countries, including Denmark and Norway.

Mr Yule said the chance to shape the community should be taken with both hands.

"This makes a difference. It takes a small amount of your time. Get to know some of the policies and candidates and exercise your vote. Some countries don't have this luxury. You can make a difference."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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