Misinformation, complacency to blame for low Waiariki turnout - Labour electorate committee chair

8:09 pm on 22 October 2020

Misinformation and complacency about how the election would turn out may account for poor voter turnout in the Waiariki and East Coast electorates, Labour Waiariki Electorate Committee chair Mawera Karetai says.

The Māori Party's Rawiri Waititi and Labour's Tamati Coffey.

The Māori Party's Rawiri Waititi and Labour's Tamati Coffey. Photo: RNZ / Te Aniwa Hurihanganui / Mei Heron

Preliminary election results show only 71 percent of East Coast and 54 percent of Waiariki enrolled voters turned out to vote. The nationwide average was 82.5 percent.

This election, Karetai witnessed a lot of misinformation "bandied about" on social media and believes this may have put people off voting.

"Some people don't have the reasonable research skills to be able to easily identify fact from fiction, and this may have put people off," she said.

"People don't know how to engage, and they didn't feel safe to engage."

Voter complacency may also have played a part.

She believes many voters thought it was obvious Labour was going to make it in and therefore did not bother to cast their own vote.

If this theory is correct, voter complacency may have played a large part in the tussle for the Waiariki electorate seat. Only 415 votes separate the Māori Party's Rawiri Waititi from Labour's Tamati Coffey, with special votes still to be counted.

Last election, Coffey just grasped the Waiariki seat through special votes and pushed incumbent Māori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell out of Parliament.

Waititi is the Māori Party's only chance at a seat in Parliament.

Some have suggested Māori electorate turnout is low because Māori do not believe in the Westernised democracy system, but Karetai does not buy into that explanation.

"There's always a small portion of people who say that, but the truth is we've been living in a colonised society for over 200 years," she said.

"We know how it works and while we may not like it, we've learnt to live within it. I think that's a bit of a cop-out actually."

Karetai said all candidates in the Waiariki electorate worked really hard to ensure all voters knew who they were and what they stood for, so she did not believe they could have done more to engage voters.

She said during last year's local elections, Whakatāne District Council candidate Toni Boynton did a lot of work ensuring Māori people were on the electoral roll.

"No-one has dropped the ball here," Karetai said.

"A lot has been done to make the process incredibly easy, bar online voting. I think the Electoral Commission did a really great job ensuring there were a lot of voting booths across the district and this year people were even able to register to vote on the day.

"I really commend them for a job well done."

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