Mayoral candidates worried about voter engagement

2:54 pm on 10 October 2019

Low engagement and voter turnout are concerning mayoral candidates across the country hoping to take out the top job.

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Voting closes at midday on Saturday. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

The last day to vote in the local elections is very near, and candidates say they're not sure postal voting is the best way to go.

Some are also worried about whether voters themselves got a decent chance to engage before casting those votes.

Starting in the north, and New Zealand's largest voter base - Auckland's race has been fought among 21 candidates.

One of the frontrunners, current mayor Phil Goff, said having John Tamihere in the race had changed the game.

"It's a lot different from last time, we had a lot of meetings last time, it's been a more aggressive campaign from his side. Sometimes 'facts' are used that are far from being facts and I'm not used to that style of campaigning."

As his mayoral campaign wrapped up, Mr Tamihere said he had absolutely no regrets.

He said running against the incumbent had been tough.

Phil Goff and John Tamihere in RNZ's Auckland office for their mayoral debate.

Phil Goff and John Tamihere Photo: RNZ / Matthew Hutching.

"The mountain we had to climb was quite big, but we knew from November what we were getting into."

He said it would be an outstanding result to overturn Mr Goff.

In Wellington, incumbent mayor Justin Lester said there were half as many mayoral debates as the last election.

Wellington mayoral candidates Andy Foster and Justin Lester.

Wellington mayoral candidates Andy Foster and Justin Lester. Photo: Supplied

The turnout to meetings had been lower than last year, and there had not been as much interest.

Mr Lester said there needed to be a change to the way people voted, with the government paying for a trial of online voting for local councils.

But he said the campaign had been fun.

His opponent Andy Foster said, while he ran in the 2016 elections, this was his first tilt with real resources behind him.

Famously backed by movie-mogul Sir Peter Jackson, Mr Foster said he had spent about $56,000 of the permitted $60,000 on his run thus far.

He felt like the real issues hadn't been properly debated.

"I've seen absolutely nothing at all new from Justin (Lester), I've tried to put out a number of new ideas which are thinking outside the square, they've got some traction.

"We haven't really had a great contest of new ideas because essentially, in my view, I'm the only one who's put any new ideas out there at all."

The newcomer to Christchurch mayoral politics, Darryll Park, said incumbent Lianne Dalziel had a true mayoral race on her hands and said he was is enjoying his first foray into politics.

Lianne Dalziel, John Minto and Darryll Park are all vying to be Christchurch's next mayor.

Lianne Dalziel, John Minto and Darryll Park are all vying to be Christchurch's next mayor. Photo: RNZ / Facebook

"It's really been a real education for me and a real positive because I've learnt a lot, a hell of a lot, right through to climate change and the issues and people calling it a crisis."

He said it was totally unacceptable that in this day and age there wasn't a voting system that combined online and postal voting.

Challenge for community groups

Sitting mayor Lianne Dalziel said some community groups had found it challenging to accommodate all 13 candidates running for Christchurch's top job.

"It would be a good idea to have a bit of a reflection on the campaign process itself. Our major daily newspaper didn't run its own election campaign special, it just covered the Chamber of Commerce's one."

In Dunedin, the race had been blown open with incumbent Dave Cull stepping down.

Lee Vandervis said it had been his toughest mayoralty race yet - due to reports of complaints made against him during the last term.

Dunedin City Councillor Lee Vandervis said his comments to Joshua Perry could cost him the Dunedin mayoralty.

Lee Vandervis Photo: Supplied: Dunedin City Council

Debates had been difficult, with 14 people vying for the top spot.

"All of these so-called debates end up being a 90-second speech from 14 different candidates at least 10 of whom are not within a ghost of a chance, so consequently there's been no real debating."

Opponent Aaron Hawkins said the campaign - his fourth - had been positive, because there hadn't been an incumbent mayor to try and unseat.

"We have 14 candidates running, but by and large most of them are running positive campaigns and putting forward their vision for the city and their values for leadership.

"I think that's certainly been a different dynamic to the past three campaigns that I've been involved in."

Mr Hawkins said voter turnout was tracking to be the same as in 2013, and said the reliance on postal voting needed to be reconsidered.

Voting closes at midday on Saturday.

Anyone who is yet to vote can still do so by going to their nearest council or voting place and casting a special vote.

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