Voter returns in the Bay of Plenty are lagging behind previous years, as fears grow New Zealand may be heading for a record low local government election turnout.
The trend has some - including the prime minister - calling for the introduction of online voting.
Warwick Lampp, electoral officer for Tauranga and Rotorua, said the country was trending towards an "all-time low" turnout, but it was "too early to call" whether the Bay of Plenty would follow suit.
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As of Monday, only 17.2 per cent of Tauranga City Council electors had returned their ballot papers, compared with 19.1 per cent at the same point in the 2016 election.
In Rotorua, it was 20.8 per cent compared with 2016's 24.7 per cent, and the Western Bay had 20.8 compared with 23.2 per cent.
With four days left to vote, all had a way to go to match their total returns in 2016: Tauranga 38 per cent, Rotorua 46 per cent, Western Bay 38.4 per cent.
Nationwide, the voter turnout in 2016 was 42 per cent. Lampp said this time, it was unlikely to get above 40 per cent.
"There are a number of factors why people may have delayed voting but I expect there will be a surge in voting in the next few days," Lampp said.
"There are some good candidates standing for the council, including the mayoralty and maybe some people are having a hard time deciding who to vote for. Plus our postal voting system does not help matters," he said.
Lampp said international research revealed online voting made a difference.
"There is no silver bullet [for increasing voter participation] but research shows after two or three election cycles the volume of votes does start to increase as people become more confident with the online system," he said.
Western Bay of Plenty District Council electoral officer Dale Osfokse agreed online voting would make a difference to turnout.
"Particularly engaging with younger, overseas and physically impaired voters," he said.
In the meantime, he hoped a good mail return on Tuesday would turn the tide "towards a significant increase in the daily returns".
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday called for some online voting to be in place in time for the next local body elections in 2022, as turnout around the country faded.
"We need to see at least the beginning of online voting in my view, and I have held that view for some time," Ardern told Stuff.
Tauranga was among nine councils nationwide that had signed on to be part of an online voting trial in 2019, but it was scrapped after cost estimates blew out.
Tauranga MP and National leader Simon Bridges could not be reached for comment.
Local body elections are conducted using postal voting. From today, voters are advised to deliver their ballots directly to ballot boxes at councils and libraries rather than posting them.
Steve Slater, 45, from Welcome Bay in Tauranga, posted his family's voting papers in the box outside Tauranga City Council's Willow St office yesterday. Slater said he hoped their votes would count to change the make-up of the council.
"From my point of view, there has been a lack of accountability by some councillors.
"Those who are elected this time around need to understand they're not just making decisions for themselves but on behalf of the whole community," he said.
Slater said he was concerned about the low voter turnout.
"I think heaps more people would vote online, especially young people," he said.
Street view: Have you voted?
"Yes, I have voted. I just wanted to make sure it was in. I don't really have a pattern each year, sometimes I am organised, sometimes I am not." -
Alex Pirie, 45, Victoria
"Yes, I did it to get it counted on time. We need a new boss to sort out this town I think." -
Arama Hill, 27, Whakarewarewa
"Yes, if you don't cast a vote you can't moan about what's happening. Your vote could help the right candidate get in." -
Roslyn Hamblyn, 70s, Utuhina
"Yes I've voted because I care about my city." -
Barb Hohepa, 60s, Selwyn Heights