The trend of decreasing voter turnout in Hamilton's previous council elections could leave this year's candidates fighting for a slimmer share of fewer votes. Tom Rowland reports.
In 2016, Hamilton's voter turnout in the postal ballot was the lowest of all New Zealand metropolitan centres at just over 30 per cent of eligible voters, and the fourth lowest of all councils.
It was lower than the national turnout of 42 per cent and lower than Tauranga, Christchurch, Dunedin, Palmerston North and Nelson.
One Hamilton resident, civic campaigner Judy McDonald, says poor process is to blame and is causing democracy to suffer.
She is calling for a return to polling booths on voting day. She says online voting would be nice but it can still lack security.
McDonald, a co-ordinator of a Hamilton pedestrian advocacy group for 13 years, said early voting should still be available, but use polling booths.
"These need to be set up in really convenient locations, like universities, polytechs, schools, for the benefit of teachers and senior students, some of whom are of voting age, shopping malls, supermarkets and so on."
She said polling booths were the only system where voters could not be influenced. "It's just you, a form, and a pen, and no one knows what boxes you've ticked," McDonald said.
She said postal voting disadvantaged the large number of students and renters in the city as they they tended to move around.
"They may fail to get the forms, have no idea who to contact or where to go to arrange for a special vote, and are likely to just give up," she said.
"Some letterboxes are completely unfit for purpose — they have no top, or no back, and mail blows away or is soaked while waiting for collection. Some boxes are rarely cleared at all and the slugs and snails move in.
"Democracy is probably being mostly denied to those at the bottom of the financial tree — the renters, subject to the whims of unscrupulous landlords — the ones who have to move often because the house is sold out from under them," McDonald said.
"In fact, anyone who doesn't have the privilege of owning their own home is at risk, and these days, over 50 per cent of Hamiltonians rent.
She said getting people enrolled in the first place remained an issue. Those who intentionally chose not to enrol were risking a fine of up to $100, or $200 for a subsequent offence under the Electoral Act 1993.
"Getting people registered needs major campaigns in schools, tertiary institutions and workplaces," she said.
"Add the fact that Hamilton's city council has not exactly covered itself with glory over the past decade or two, given some of its costly blunders, and the fact that people feel they aren't listened to, our voter turnout isn't surprising at all.
"If we want change, voting is the only way to achieve it. It's also important to get the message across that abstaining from voting is not a form of protest — it's just a way of letting other people decide your future for you, and you might not like what they decide," McDonald said.
In his pre-election report for candidates and ratepayers Hamilton City Council chief executive Richard Briggs said: "Community confidence in council is dropping. Only 26 per cent of people have confidence our council will make decisions in their best interests. And the residents' perception that they have large (or some) influence over the decisions the council makes has dropped from 45 per cent to 30 per cent."
Hamilton City Council attempted to bring online voting to this year's election, but central Government was not prepared, with online voting set to be reviewed again for the 2022 elections.