Hamilton City throws a gauntlet on voter turnout

2:47 pm on 4 October 2019

Hamilton City is challenging other councils around the country to a Vote Off to see who can get the most residents to vote.

Hamilton CBD at dusk

Photo: 123rf

They are hoping to turn around what is a traditionally appallingly low-voter turnout in local body elections.

In the last election in 2016, only 42 percent of eligible voters nationally bothered to vote.

In Hamilton, just one-in-three people, or 33.6 percent percent voted, the lowest return of any city.

In Auckland it was a bit higher at 38.5 percent, Wellington 45.6 percent, Christchurch 38.3 percent, Dunedin 45.2 percent and the highest, Nelson on 52.1 percent.

Hamilton City Council Chief Executive, Richard Briggs said everyone in local government strives to increase voter turnout and the challenge couples a bit of fun by playing on rivalries between various centres.

"Everyone in this country lives in a place where a council delivers services and there are a number of people that are responsible for the governance of that place and it is our responsibility to ensure that we put the best people into those positions, so voting is a critical part of that."

"Democracy rocks," he said.

Mr Briggs said it is hard to get people to vote because a lot of them, particularly young people, do not see it as being cool.

"With national politics you have some very big meaty issues. In local government, we are pretty much dealing with a good chunk of our budget is delivery of core services, roading and water."

He described it as an almost magic system approach.

"People just expect the road to be there when they drive out and they expect water to be there when they turn the tap on. It doesn't really have that heated debate element attached to it."

Older voters are more likely to tick the boxes on their voting papers and post them back than young people.

Rock Enrol is a group set up to encourage young people to vote both in national and local elections.

Its Auckland co-ordinator Lucy McLean said young people are not apathetic and are politically engaged, but there are a number of factors that make voting in local elections unattractive and difficult for them.

She described it as a cycle of mutual neglect.

"Candidates who are standing don't appeal to young people, so young people do not vote and that continues on, so that need to be broken."

Lucy McLean said postal voting is an antiquated and foreign concept to young people.

"They don't use mail really at all. Most of my friends wouldn't know where a post box is."

The transient nature of young people also plays a part.

"People are often moving flats every year, which means that you have to be re enrolled in order for your address to be right, which means young people have this disproportionate burden of admin in order to enrol and get their voting forms in the mail," she said.

Karl Kane, director of Massey University's design and democracy project, said that to get more young people involved, the structures of politics needed to be changed.

"The current adversarial political system is very much at odds of how a young person lives their life."

Mr Kane said young people do not vote because there is a lack of knowledge of who the candidates are and what they stand for, a lack of understanding of what councils do and assumptions they are not relevant to them.

He said young people today are taught to be collaborative, deliberative and to reach consensus and work together.

"When you compare that to how politics at a local and national level unfolds and it is really a disconnect."

Mr Kane believed one way to increase voter turnout was to celebrate the work of local councils and not just focus on infrastructure like rates, water and waste, although important.

"Focusing on things like concerts, libraries, the cultural fabric of a city, which is all dictated at a local level and I think it is a wonderful way of encouraging young people to get into the game and have a say."

He said young people are not apathetic or disengaged from politics.

"They are not the opt out, narcissistic, self indulgent, self absorbed generation that they are sometimes painted as. They just do politics in a different way."

Mr Kane agreed with Rock Enrol's Lucy McLean that postal voting seems ridiculous to them.

Voters have until midday Saturday 12 October to return their voting papers to their local council.

As of 3 October, with nine days to go, 16 percent (17,050) of the 102,714 electors have voted, up from 14.22 percent at the same time at the last election in 2016.

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