Before you read this editorial, I should probably declare my bias.
I believe in voting and I think everyone who is legally entitled to vote, should do so.
There, I said it.
You wouldn't think that was newsworthy really until you realise the voter turnout in the last local government election for Stratford was a shocking 45.6 per cent.
This was despite a 10-month Vote2016 campaign by Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) which ran until polling day, aiming to lift voter numbers above 50 per cent nationally.
Had that campaign succeeded, it would have been the first time New Zealand voter numbers went above 50 per cent since 1989.
I said had it succeeded. Because in fact, voter numbers didn't hit that magic number in 2016. Nationally speaking, they went from 49 per cent in 2010, down to 41.3 per cent in 2013 then up slightly to 42 per cent in 2016. So the campaign did lift the numbers, just not as much as hoped.
In Stratford, the 2016 turnout decreased from 47.2 per cent in 2013. Some people theorise elections with a mayoral race tend to enjoy higher voter numbers, and it is true the 2016 election didn't have a contested mayoralty for Stratford, while 2013 did. If that is the case, perhaps we will see an increase in numbers again this year. I certainly hope so.
With under half of all eligible voters in the district having had their say in 2013, I wonder if the other half were content or disengaged.
I suspect the individuals who didn't get out of bed and make their tick are the ones who have spent the past three years complaining about their rates, their water, their street lighting, their rubbish collection and so on.
According to the statisticians at Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), the main reasons people give for not voting is not knowing enough about the candidates (33 per cent), 'forgot or left too late' (23 per cent), 'not interested' or 'too busy' (each 16 per cent).
Too busy? What on earth were people doing that they couldn't grab a pen and put a few ticks by some names?
What could possibly have taken up all their time from the moment voting documents arrived?
As for the forgetful or late 23 per cent - I am certainly guilty of leaving things to the last minute at times, and often forget my keys or phone. But, I have so far always managed to remember to exercise my democratic right when it comes to voting.
The statistic that really irks me though, is that 33 per cent who said they didn't vote because they didn't know enough about the candidates.
I have to ask - how much effort did they put into finding out?
We live in the information age and there is no excuse for not knowing much about people. Especially when we are talking local candidates. If you can't find them on Facebook or haven't had them drop a flyer in your mailbox, chances are you bump into them at the supermarket, or can give them a call and ask them what you want to know.
On top of that, the Stratford Press has been running a series of questions and answers for our Stratford council and mayoralty candidates over the past few weeks.
People were also able to come along to our Meet the Candidates session organised by the Stratford Press and Newstalk ZB, where questions from the floor were encouraged. (See our Facebook page for videos from the event - as well as the New Plymouth, Hawera and Inglewood ones - and hear what the candidates had to say).
So don't tell me you don't know enough about the candidates.
Be an informed voter and make the effort to find out. Ask questions, and if they don't answer or you can't get hold of them because they don't return calls or are never available, then take that into consideration as well.
Listen to the policies and election promises of the candidates, and ask the hard questions of them. When they tell you what they are going to do for you, ask them how they will achieve it.
We spend our life being told not to judge people, but when it comes to election time, perhaps we should.
Look at your candidates through a microscope - look at how they conduct themselves in person, online and when answering your questions. Do they focus most on telling you what they offer or where their opponents fail?
Remember, they will get paid to represent you for the next three years - who will give you your money's worth?
I've heard people complain they aren't represented at the Council tables across the country. Looking at the line ups at the various election evenings around our region, I would say there is more choice and variety this year than we have had in the past perhaps.
There is certainly a range of people standing who bring with them a range of ideas and beliefs. So listen to them, ask questions, and choose the candidates who offer if not exactly what you want, then at least the closest.
Maybe there is no-one who exactly matches your ethnicity, age, gender or culture, but representation doesn't have to mean people exactly like you. It can mean people who reflect parts of you, or think the same as you in particular areas. And if you really do want someone exactly like you as a candidate, then stand yourself in the next election.
Whatever your gender, creed, culture or religion, voting is a way to be heard and a way to be part of building your own future, and the future of the generations to come.
Chances are, in the past week or so, you have used many of the services and amenities your Council looks after or provides for you, so why not have a say in who makes the decisions on them?
From your rubbish collection to your drinking water, the swimming pool to the library, the roads you drive on and the pavements you walk on, you use or benefit from Council provided services daily, so make sure you vote on who will decide what gets funded and how for the next few years.
And if you don't vote - please don't even think about writing letters to the editor complaining about Council decisions for the next three years.