It is election year for local government and Whanganui District Council wants to see people take full advantage of the process and the opportunities it offers — standing for office and being part of the voting process.
"My huge thing is breaking down barriers for people to (a) stand and (b) vote," says Christina Emery, who is one of a number of community leaders brought on board to help raise the profile of democracy.
"We want to encourage people to stand: we want to get rid of anything that is going to stop them ... we want to make everything as accessible as possible. We have 11 people we are using in our campaign across social media, radio, newspaper, all that. They are amazing people within their own communities, so we wanted to give a real face to the campaign." The 11 are called community participants.
"There are so many passionate people out there for Whanganui, so how do we get those people to stand; how do we get those people to make sure they have a voice and that everyone in Whanganui has a voice?"
Sarah Pomeroy is communications and marketing manager at Whanganui District Council.
"We reached out to people like Christina and community organisations, to find people to participate, and there were a few people we shoulder-tapped," she says. "And in every case we've had a really good conversation, which is, what question would you like on this poster or in this campaign that sits with your image? And, what's your call to action? What they want to say to the community is ... stand for diversity, or stand for inclusivity, or stand for your vision." She says they've been a lovely group of people to work with and really behind what the campaign is doing to encourage people to stand.
"Our first phase is posters of the 11 people, including myself," says Christina. "As Sarah said, they have something to stand for ... and then we've allowed them each to have a sentence of what that means. If you are standing, we want people to think about what they're standing for. If you're standing for diversity, what does that mean, what does it look like? Is it currently covered by council or is it something you can bring into council?"
An obstacle preventing people from standing can be the amount of information to be absorbed.
"We're going to be having a pop-up site where people can come and ask questions and we can direct them to that information," says Christina. "We've got a localised website ... we're taking away all the hard stuff and delivering easy stuff so people can absorb it."
She says when she stood for council, Stephanie Macdonald-Rose put out an easy-to-understand video about the process.
"That messaging needs to continue and get further out, which is why I'm excited to be working on the campaign."
"One of the reasons we wanted Christina working on this with us as part of the team is to have someone in the community to talk to about these things," says Sarah.
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Kate Barnes, democracy services manager and, this year, deputy electoral officer, says politicians are no different to anyone else and democracy is available to everybody. "You have to be over 18, a registered voter, find two people to nominate you — that's the beauty of it: anyone can stand, and part of the campaign is to get that message across." She says the website and information should break down a few of the barriers. "We'll be able to let people nominate themselves online, which seems pretty obvious in 2022, but which wasn't always the case in the past."
"Not everyone can have a physical seat at the council table," says Christina, "So, for the standing we want to make sure that 99.99 per cent, if not 100 per cent of people in Whanganui are represented, and the second part of that is vote for the people you want in."
Voting is by postal ballot.
"But we want to make that as easy as possible," says Christina.
"In terms of wanting to make things a bit more equitable and accessible," says Kate, "Having a website means every candidate can have their profile on there ... The council will run the meet-the-candidates event this year and we will be ensuring that all candidates are invited. We do want to hear from people interested in holding their own event, because we want to be able to publicise that."
The website is votewhanganui.nz and is filled with information for Whanganui local elections in 2022.
Christina says everyone will be seeing the 11 community participants out and about over the next few months.
"We don't want people to have to come to us: we want to be able to be in their lives, in their communities."