Saturday, September 24, 2016

The local voting begins

Here we go again! The triennial elections for New Zealand’s local government are underway, with election papers being delivered to households starting last week, and the first votes already being counted. This year the turnout is ahead of last time, but behind 2010. That means that there’s no way to predict who will win most races, however, this year it may actually be easier to choose.

I’ve always been a strong advocate for democracy, but even I think there can be too much of a good thing. I strongly believe that merely having more candidates doesn't mean more democracy—in fact, it can often mean the opposite.

Last election, in 2013, I posted a chart of all the candidates we could vote for in our area. The chart at the top of this post is an updated and expanded version of that chart for this year’s election.

The first thing that’s obvious is that there are fewer candidates running for the 24 available positions. This year, there are only 72 candidates, a number that’s been declining since the first “supercity” elections in 2010.

On the face of it, fewer candidates overall could be a good thing because it makes it easier to learn about the candidates. However, many of those candidates are actually running for more than one position, meaning that there aren’t 72 people running for office. That can be a good thing, because it makes it easier still to learn about those people.

It’s common for candidates to run for both the Councillor in their Ward, and for their Local Board. This isn’t an issue: If a person is elected to both, they automatically forfeit their seat on the local board, and the next-highest polling candidate is elected. Not all candidates for either Council or the Local Board run for both, of course, but I don’t personally have any problem with those who do.

Running for more than one Local Board, however, and running for several other offices, too, is nothing more than job-shopping, and this year Mary-Anne Benson-Cooper is again the queen of job-shopping: She’s running for Auckland Council from North Shore Ward, Devonport-Takapuna Local Board, Upper Harbour Local Board, and the Auckland District Health Board. But, even she’s toned it down a bit: Last election she ran for FOUR different local boards, councillor in a different ward, and also the Waitemata District Health Board.

A law change has affected Grant Gillon, another local politician I criticised last time. That year, he ran for Councillor and for election to two local boards. He lost Council for the second time in a row, but he won election to both local boards—and he served on both, collecting two salaries from taxpayers. I urged that Parliament “Fix this politicians’ rort”, and they did: They changed the law to prevent someone from serving on more than one local board at a time, which I applauded and Grant, not surprisingly, did not.

To me, the biggest improvement this year is the dramatic drop in the number of people standing for our district health board: It’s only 16, about half of what it has been the first two elections. Sixteen is a much more manageable number of candidates for people to learn about, and this year, for the first time ever, one candidate, Monina Gesmundo, made a personal pitch for my vote. She got it. I may not like voting for DHB Members, but voting for a candidate who actually campaigned for the role ought to be rewarded, in my opinion.

The number of candidates for mayor is up slightly this time, but it's still the average number of candidates for the three elections. Once again, there’s only one real contender, Phil Goff. The right is fractured and failing to catch on, and a couple others who get some buzz on social media, but not out in the real world. Goff is widely expected to win (full disclosure: I support him), and because there’s really no strong opposition for him, this is expected to depress voter turnout.

So, this year we have fewer candidates, most of whom aren't running for multiple positions, but the turnout is expected to be low because of the lack of a real contest for mayor. In other words, not much different from 2013.

Still, what I said in 2013 is also true this year: “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."

As of yesterday, voter turnout in Auckland was at 7.61%, as opposed to 11.1% at that point in 2010, and 5.9% in 2013. In our ward, last week’s turnout ended at 6.2% for Kaipātiki Local Board area and 8.1% for Devonport-Takapuna Local Board area. Auckland Council posts a PDF of the turnout/count, updated every day.

Voting closes on Saturday, October 8 at midday. Those who post their ballots must post them by Wednesday, October 5, though Monday October 3 is safer.


Local politics – My post from 2013
And the race is on… My more upbeat look at the 2010 local government elections in Auckland
Discerning Democracy – Another post from 2010

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