Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Local Elections: Why the Downhill Slide — Others' opinions and mine

Fewer people have always voted in local elections than in national elections but this year’s voting for mayors, wards, regional councils, health boards, and in some cases community boards and licensing trusts —all on the same voting paper! — seems likely to be even less than usual. And once again researchers and media columnists have tried to pinpoint causes and offer possible solutions.

SpinOff’s Alex Braae thinks this year’s slide could be due to
slower postal services, some people not getting their voting papers, and Auckland one-shop voting shops running our of voting papers. He wonders whether on-line voting might be the answer. Dr Julienne Molineaux from the Auckland University of Technology thinks on-line voting will be popular by those who vote but overseas experience shows it does nothing to “ add new people to the voter pool, and this holds even for young voters.” Jacinda Ardern says Government will look at the problem before the next local elections in 2022.

Molineaux thinks the dismal voting level has little to do with the technology used. She puts it down to lack of interest, low levels of civics literacy, and not having enough information on candidates, policies and issues. Braae thinks it could be because people are so “deeply dissatisfied” that they don’t vote, or so satisfied they see no reason to.

I’m more inclined to Dr Molineaux who says that while a lack of information is an important hurdle, “the local government ballot is very complex and the lack of political party branding makes decision-making hard, even for those who follow politics. Having the ballot on a screen will not reduce decision-making hurdles, nor reduce cynicism among people who have switched off from politics.”

My opinions

The voting paper is far too complex. In my Porirua ward, I am asked to rank 6 mayoral candidates; 4 of 9 ward would-be’s, 2 of 7 regional council candidates, and 7 of 23 people standing for the district health board. In all, 14 positions and 45 candidates That’s a total of 14 positions and 45 candidates. Assisting me in this task is a 43 page booklet, and candidate leaflets in my letter box.

I could, of course, vote for fewer candidates by ranking only one or two, but then I don’t know if by doing so, in this single transferable vote system, I will be helping or harming the chances of the candidate(s) I most prefer. 

Besides, choosing candidates is also not easy. They nearly all claim long residence in the area, business or community experience, the need to maintain or change what council has done without actually spelling out what this means, and a “passion” to improve infrastructure, growth,a vibrant community, save the environment and not increase rates. Most also say they are “independent” which I thinks means they have no political leaning— yet surely they voted at the last national election. I spent a whole morning deciding on who to vote for.

My ideas on how to increase local election turnout
  • Use the social media and special local websites to highlight local issues, the work of council, and the intentions of candidates, people’s comments, and discussion between councillors and voters.
  • Use on-line voting and posted returns by all means but also place sealed voting boxes at supermarkets.
  • Push for more civics education in schools, and even more in the senior classes.

And on how to make voting easier and probably more meaningful
  • Urge candidates to declare their political leanings.
  • Reduce the number of posts to vote for. Vote only for mayors and councillors. Leaving it to the elected councils to elect representatives on regional councils, health boards, community boards and licensing trusts.
  • Conduct research on whether the single transferable vote system is achieving its aim. At the last Porirua election, the candidate who won the most first preference votes did not cross the “win threshold” and the mayor elected won only after third preference votes were counted.
-- ACW



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