Democracy the real loser in 2019 Local Government elections

So, the elections of 2019 are over. The new District, City and Regional Councils as well as the new District Health Boards have been decided. Many of the Councils have had their first meeting’s – formal or otherwise and photos of the elected bodies have been posted to Facebook.

As with all elections there are winners and losers. In 2019 though the real losers were not actually the defeated board members/councillors/mayors – although they certainly lost – but the democratic principle which lies at the heart of New Zealand politics. When a country has an average voter turnout of only , that is not democracy IN ACTION, but as a headline on the Sunday Star Times said, “Democracy INACTION”*.

And I have been left wondering what it will take to make more New Zealanders vote in these elections. Will it take compulsory civics in school to learn about how the system works and why, say in Year 12 place of one of the five optional subject slots students can take? Will it require more places to cast ballots – I thought that for one weekend at some point in the campaign period perhaps the locations that are used for General Election voting could be opened for casting ballots. Others have suggested using online voting systems to get people to vote, something has been used in the United States with controversial results.

We cannot make them come to the ballot box, but one thing that could be done is automatically enrolling all citizens upon their 18th birthday. That would ensure that the thousands not on the roll are put on it and are not subject to fines. It would also give the Electoral Commission a better idea of who lives where and make sure that appropriate election resources are applied to that ward/seat.

I wonder what it will take for small electorates to have more than one person standing in some wards. Kaikoura District for example the entire council was re-elected unopposed simply because a district with only a tiny rate payer base almost completely in Kaikoura township was simply not enough to squeeze out any more candidates. Same goes for districts across much of the northern South Island and parts of rural North Island.

Fortunately one certainty still seems to exist irrespective of voter turnout: say or do anything really stupid during the campaign or ones term and you will probably be toast. Just ask Siggi Henry in Hamilton, who wore an anti-vaccination t-shirt to a function and deliberately parked in a disabled carpark. She lost her job on Saturday. Just ask John Tamihere, the former Labour cabinet minister opposing Phil Goff in Auckland, who made the mistake of saying “Sieg Heil”, which is closely linked to Nazism. His election bid to be Auckland Mayor failed handsomely. Just ask former Christchurch City Councillor Deon Swiggs who sent inappropriate text messages to a 15 year old, getting him banned by his boss from council functions for youth and ultimately losing his seat on Saturday.

But all in all, this is not how New Zealand elections should be going in terms of voter turnout and the negative commentary about this sorry state is justified.

*Emphasis is mine

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