They say all politics is local, but someone forgot to tell New Zealand voters that. We’re in the midst of our local elections and if the past is any indicator, Kiwis will have to work hard to get their interest level up to “paying no attention at all”.
Okay, that’s a BIT unfair: We might get nearly 50% of voters to return their ballots (it’s a postal ballot). But that means that more than half of eligible voters couldn’t possibly care less. Well, what else are we to think if they can’t even be bothered to vote in a postal election?
We got our voting papers in the mail yesterday, and I looked at them this morning. It turns out that for voters in our area, there are fewer candidates than in 2010, the first elections for the new Auckland “super city”. Back then, there were 102 candidates vying for 24 positions, while this year there are only 88. That breaks down as follows:
The number of candidates has gone down or remained the same for all but one elective office, the District Health Board (DHB). It may seem a mystery as to why anyone would want to run for that, but it’s an elective board: Some folks see it as a stepping stone to other elective office.
The office of Mayor has only one serious contender, Mayor Len Brown, and only one true crackpot, an anti-abortion crusader whose courage of conviction was so strong that he didn’t even provide a photo for his official bio, which he mostly used to preach against abortion; whatever. There are two far-leftists running, but they appeal to a small minority of voters, and one of them, not even that many. The rest are people I’ve never heard of (one American expat running I only heard of once he announced; apparently he’s known for a reality TV show, but I’ve never seen it on TV and don’t like his agenda).
A bigger story is our Kaipatiki Local Board: Of the 23 candidates, five don’t even live in the boundaries the Board area, and of them, three are standing for election to two or more Local Boards. One candidate who does live in the area is also standing for two Local Boards. Candidates aren’t required to live in the Board area to which they’re seeking election, and they can stand for more than one Local Board. I don’t think either one should be allowed, but definitely not standing for more than one Local Board.
People who stand for more than one Local Board are “job shopping,” as far as I’m concerned: It’s like applying for several jobs, hoping to get one, and then picking the one they like best. Only this isn’t the private sector, and if a person is going to ask the public to trust them with their vote, then they damn well ought to serve if elected, and not choose a board they like the best. I sincerely hope that any candidate who stands for more than one Local Board loses badly.
One candidate for our Local Board, Mary-Anne Benson-Cooper is standing for FOUR different Local Boards! Why should any voter entrust their vote to a person like that?! She’s either indecisive or extremely ambitious, but either way, she’s the clear winner in the job shopping contest. She’s also standing for Auckland Council (in a different Ward) and the DHB. Many candidates do that—stand for other, elective offices at the same time as for Local Board—and I have far less of a problem with that, since if elected to Council and Local Board they give up their Local Board seat (and the next-highest vote getter is elected); it’s the standing for the same position in several different places I think is inexcusable.
Since I’m naming names, the other two out-of-area candidates standing for two Local Boards are: Edward Benson-Cooper and Ivan Dunn. The area resident who is running for two different Local Boards is Grant Gillon. Perhaps needless to say, I will NOT be voting for any of the job shoppers.
The DHB list is a joke. I’ve heard of only three of the 35 candidates, and two of those I’d never vote for and the third I'd rather not vote for. The DHB uses the Single Transferable Vote preferential voting system, which many Kiwis don’t even understand. Add that to the long list of mystery people, and it’s little wonder that people skip that part of the ballot, or don’t bother voting at all.
The fact is, there just aren’t easy opportunities for voters to get good information about candidates. In the nearly 18 years I’ve lived in New Zealand, I’ve never seen a political candidate for any office standing at my front door. I also don’t remember seeing any campaign workers, though I could have forgotten it. All we get are a LOT of roadside signs, some flyers in our letterbox and the 53 pages of short bios sent out with our voting papers. Candidates do show up at some public events and public meetings, but I’ve never been to one where a candidate was present.
In our Ward, two National Party-aligned Auckland Council candidates, George Wood and Joseph Bergin, clearly have a LOT of money behind them. So far, we’ve received a direct-mail letter each, a flier in our letterbox and a slick, two-sided A4 glossy colour flyer insert in our local paper (plus a lot of large signs). Clearly some folks with deep pockets want them to win. All that money is wasted on me, though: They won’t get my vote.
Spending a lot of money on promotion doesn’t provide good information so that ordinary voters can make sound decisions. However, it does make it easier to get votes: With the lack of information and poor voter motivation, voters tend to vote for whoever they’ve heard of. This is why the same people tend to get elected over and over again.
I don’t know how to get more people to vote or how to get them take personal responsibility for picking who to vote for. I’m a political junkie, so of course I research candidates, but most people don’t, and they won’t. Somehow, we need to make it easier for voters to make informed decisions, then get them to actually vote.
The good news is that despite it all, there are plenty of good, dedicated and conscientious local government politicians, people who care about and are committed to their communities. And it’s also good to know that we have many such people right here in our area. I’ll talk about some of them in future posts.
Voting closes on Saturday, October 12 at midday.
And the race is on… My more upbeat look at the 2010 local government elections in Auckland
Discerning Democracy – Another post from 2010