With voting closing at midday on Saturday, local councils are pulling out all the stops to engage voters. Video / NZ Herald
Leaders of Local Government NZ have echoed Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s interest in a review of their voting process, after only 40 per cent of eligible New Zealanders voted today and Auckland’s turnout experienced a significant drop.
Preliminary data on voter turnout as of 3.30pm today showed the overall number of Kiwis who voted for local government mayoralities, councils and local boards was “holding” to the same 40 per cent level as in the 2019 election.
Wellington City had a relatively high turnout that is expected to exceed 45 per cent. Dunedin, Hutt City and Christchurch were all holding just under 40 per cent turnout.
But New Zealand’s biggest city and region Auckland – comprising a third of the country’s population – experienced a drop from a 34.7 per cent voter turnout in 2019 to 31.1 per cent in 2022.
That percentage represents 355,124 votes across the Auckland region.
The turnout was deemed a further disappointment considering the publicity campaign and logistical efforts made by Local Government NZ to get more people voting in 2022.
There were 412 new ballot boxes this election across New Zealand compared to the 2019 election.
Local Government NZ president Stuart Crosby called for a review of their voting processes in a press conference today in Wellington.
“I think it’s very disappointing. At central government elections it’s around 80 per cent and at local government elections it has been trending downwards,” Crosby said.
“So to that end we’re certainly calling for some really in-depth research as to the why. This trend has been continuing. That is absolutely critical because once we understand the component parts that make up this decline we can look to make some redress to that. We all have different ideas as to why it’s been declining, but again, an independent review is really required now.”
Ardern said on Monday that turnout had traditionally been low in local body elections until the “final period”.
“It’s hard to say where it will land, but I am worried, because you would of course want to see it a bit higher than it is now,” she said.
“I do think it’s time for us to have to work with local government and say, from local government’s perspective, ‘What do you think will bring the greatest engagement with your voters?’ “
Crosby said the main concern in their current system was whether it was user friendly.
“Do we have to go digital? Or do we have to have both? Or should we have a particular election day as per central government election?” Crosby said.
“All these are very valid questions, and all of them would present various barriers to different people. So again we’re calling for a review on that. There is a process in place with regard to that and we’d want to bolt local government into that.”
As voting ticked down to the midday cut-off point today, Kaikōura residents were leading the charge on voter turnout.
Just under 52 per cent of Kaikōura locals had turned in their voting papers as of midday today. The figure is a jump from the same time in 2019, when their turnout was about 47 per cent.
The council with the biggest jump in voters as of midday today was Southland District Council. Residents mustered enough enthusiasm to achieve 41 per cent turnout by the deadline, compared to about 32 per cent last election.