6 Oct 2016

Clock ticking on lifting voter turnout

9:04 pm on 6 October 2016

With just two days to go until votes are counted in the local body elections, voter turnout remains low in some main centres.

Auckland University students listen to some Auckland mayoral candidates.

Auckland University students listen to some of the mayoral candidates make their case. Photo: RNZ

In Auckland, the target turnout of 40 percent was at risk, with turnout yesterday at 28 percent.

While in Wellington and Christchurch, turnout was at its lowest point - at 28.54 and 30.11 percent respectively - compared to the same period in the past three elections.

Watch a video debate between four of Auckland's mayoral candidates here, four of Wellington's mayoral candidates here - or read a sample of candidates' policy positions (Auckland and Wellington).

According to academics, the low turnout was not due to apathy but the complexity of councils, the difficulty of voting and a breakdown of social bonds.

Lincoln University lecturer Jean Drager recently edited a book on the state of local government in New Zealand.

One of the major problems contributing to low turnout was not knowing who to vote for, she said.

"It is quite difficult for people to find out enough to encourage them to vote," she said.

"At the moment they get voting forms with a little booklet with a little piece about each candidate.

"If you're not connected to your community or haven't accessed other information, it's quite bewildering."

The mixture of voting systems and a lack of a coordinated public campaign to get people voting all contributed to the low turnout, Dr Drage said.

"We need a comprehensive information campaign on the importance of local elections and why it's important to be involved, and we need much more information on who's standing and how you can get more information on those people," she said.

The Electoral Commission should run local elections instead of the councils, she said.

Dr Drage's co-author Christine Cheyne, a local government specialist at Massey University, said the country needed to pay serious attention to the health of its democracy.

"It isn't just about elections, it's about the way in which councils engage with their communities in the three years prior to meetings," she said.

Online voting would be a good way to encourage young people to take part, she said.

As the country becomes older and more ethnically diverse, councils would find it even harder to reach people.

Local Government New Zealand young elected members committee co-chair Ana Coffey said online voting would help, but councils must also become more representative, and more engaged.

"The people who are of a certain demographic will never really have a problem with being heard," Ms Coffey said.

"If we're going to particular groups, it's not just about canvassing wider, but also going deeper.

"It's not about ticking a box and saying 'yes, we've spoken to young people', it's about the quality of conversation we've had," she said.

There is still time to enrol and vote.

By the numbers

The following figures show turnout as at 5 October 2016, and the equivalent date in previous elections as well as the total final turnout.

Auckland:

2016 - 28.02 percent

2013 - 26.1 percent (total 35.5 percent)

2010 - 39.4 percent (total 51 percent)

Hamilton:

2016 - 24.03 percent

2013 - 24.9 percent (total 38.3 percent)

2010 - 26.7 percent (total 37.8 percent)

Tauranga:

2016 - 28.42 percent

2013 - 27.61 percent (total 37.78 percent)

2010 - 30.36 percent (total 43.64 percent)

2007 - 34.72 percent (total 46.36 percent)

Wellington:

2016 - 28.54 percent

2013 - 34.61 percent (total 41.68 percent)

2010 - 32.80 percent (total 39.54 percent)

2007 - 31.25 percent (total 39.15 percent)

Christchurch:

2016 - 30.11 percent

2013 - 34.27 percent (total 42.92 percent)

2010 - 40.95 percent (total 52.15 percent)

2007 - 30.88 percent (total 42.02 percent)

Dunedin:

2016 - 32.89 percent

2013 - 28.63 percent (total 43.49 percent)

2010 - 40.73 percent (total 52.96 percent)

2007 - 34.42 percent (total 47.47 percent)

Matamata-Piako District Council:

2016 - 20.47 percent

2013 - 31.79 percent (total 44.83 percent)

2010 - 32.05 percent (total 42.08 percent)

2007 - 31.23 percent (total 42.14 percent)

High voter-turnout areas

Mackenzie District Council:

2016 - 54.89 percent

2013 - 50.97 percent (total 63.37 percent)

Central Otago District Council:

2016 - 52.06 percent

2013 - 41.40 percent (total 51.30 percent)

2010 - 49.00 percent (total 58 percent)

2007 - 45.00 percent (total 56 percent)

Waitaki District Council

2016 - 44.93 percent

2013 - 44.84 percent (total 57.30 percent)

2010 - 48.56 percent (total 57.90 percent)

2007 - 49.31 percent (total 63.06 percent)

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