Local body elections: West Coast leaders echo PM's low turnout concerns

7:07 pm on 3 October 2022
Grey District mayor Tania Gibson

Tania Gibson says the Greymouth postal speed is now so slow she doubts its merits for a postal election. Photo: Supplied

Worry about the delivery speed of the local body election postal voting papers is shared by Greymouth Mayor Tania Gibson as ballot papers trickle in with just five days to go before polling closes.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern joined the debate this morning saying she had concerns when people exercising their democratic right to choose who represents them was being limited.

"I think this is the time for Local Government NZ to sit down and just have that conversation around the way that people vote for local elections," she said on TVNZ.

Gibson echoed that. "I think it would be quite beneficial to go electronic somehow or online," she said.

By Friday, Grey district had an almost 30 percent return rate, about the same as this time last election in 2019.

Westland district had a 31.5 percent return (34.2 percent) and Buller 27.38 percent (27.8 percent).

Gibson said the Greymouth postal speed was now so slow she doubted its merits for a postal election, and it worried her.

A letter from Greymouth High School to her office recently had taken six days to get about 2km down the road to the council chambers.

She empathised with calls to revise the voting system. "I think we need to look at NZ Post's service."

At the same time, using other means would help, she said. "The internet would encourage more people to vote."

Aside from the turnout, Gibson said the declining level of interest in the community was a real concern - especially having enough good quality candidates willing to put their hands up.

"It's disappointing not to see more, but the flak that local [councillors] get, it's very off-putting," she said.

On top of that it was increasingly difficult for younger women in particular, with few at all standing in this year's four West Coast elections - amid the reality of juggling family and career conflicts.

Overall the increasing age profile of candidates was notable and reflected people's ability to commit.

"Our councillors that aren't self employed, they don't have the flexibility in their everyday jobs. We'd like to start attracting more younger people."

Westland again had a field of five candidates for the mayoralty, but the choice for voters in some wards was very limited, such as in the Northern Ward, from Ross to Kumara, Westland mayor Bruce Smith said today.

Talk about low voter turnout in some areas meant the case for revising the voting system was timely.

"One of the things that's pretty obvious to me, you need to make it easier for people to vote. Virtually everything we do is online. To have a postal voting system - it's almost archaic," Smith said.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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