Monday, October 17, 2022

Auckland voters say little

This is the second post about the two areas where I followed the local elections, and this one is about the part of Auckland’s North Shore where Nigel and I lived until 2017 (links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this post). Before talking about the results, I first need to point out I have a vested interest.

When Nigel and moved from Auckland’s North Shore and bought in the southern part of Auckland, we did so by including our house on the Shore in the deal, so both houses were used for the total borrowing. We kept our house on the Shore and rented it out. When Nigel died, I obviously inherited that property, too (and the tax obligations).

New Zealand has a system in which people who own property somewhere they don’t live can enrol to vote on what’s called “the ratepayer roll” for the place where they own property. This is different from what’s called “the general roll” which includes all NZ citizens and NZ permanent residents who are 18 or older. The idea, basically, is that people who pay rates (similar to property taxes in the USA) on a property are entitled to have representation so they have a say in how those rates are spent. On the one had, that makes perfect sense: No taxation without representation, and all that. On the other hand, it also favours those who are fortunate to own property other than what they live in. Should someone get extra votes merely because they own property other than what they live in? Or, should “one person, one vote” be the primary consideration? The system makes me extremely uncomfortable and doesn’t sit well with my egalitarian values—though neither does owning a residential rental property, actually.

Still, the system is what it is, and those who tend to favour the rightwing don’t usually share my unease. If they’re likely to vote in a way I wouldn't support, pragmatically I needed to use the same system to vote in support of my values. I’ve always been a pragmatist, not a dogmatist, so enrolled in the ratepayer roll and voted (I posted my ballot to Auckland the same day I dropped off my Hamilton ballot; I posted it by the deadline suggested, so I presume, but don’t know, that it arrived on time and was counted).

The folks who live in Auckland have only Auckland Council—there is no regional council on top of it, as there is in the rest of New Zealand. The main body is usually called the Governing Body (or GB), and is made up of Councillors elected in one or two person Wards. Below that are Local Boards (also known as an “LB”, usually as an acronym for its actual name) to represent far more local interests, providing advice to the GB and deciding some very local things (like park upgrades, community funding, and whatever the GB delegates). The mayor is elected at large in the entire city, and despite a few powers, the mayor is merely one vote on the GB, which means the mayor may not get their way. Auckland uses the old fashioned “first past the post” electoral system for its local elections.

Auckland’s official 2022 results were released on Saturday, October 15. I’ll talk mainly about races where I had a vote, as I did when talking about the Hamilton/Waikato elections).


The Auckland mayoralty was won by a guy called Wayne Brown, who I did not vote for. He won 181,810 votes to runner-up Efeso Collins’ 124,802 votes. Collins, who I voted for, was endorsed by the Labour Party and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and was generally considered the progressive candidate (though one prominent rightwing political commentator tried to gaslight progressives by saying Collins was “anti-LGBT+” and “anti-abortion” which was deliberate misrepresentation of his positions). Brown, meanwhile, ran a pretty nasty campaign. He came across as a bit of a jerk, partly because of his habit of calling people he disagrees with “idiots” (or worse), and aggressively oversimplifying the issues Auckland faces. To me, he sounded as if he either didn’t actually know what he was talking about, or he was deliberately talking populist nonsense to win votes. Neither option is especially appealing considering Auckland will be stuck with him for three years. Whatever the reality is, it worked.

Collins, meanwhile, would've been the first Polynesian mayor of Auckland, which absolutely triggered “certain people”. The fact he was identified with Labour also didn’t help him with those same “certain people”, along with rightwingers generally. The main problem that Collins faced was the disgustingly low voter turnout overall (around 37% of all eligible voters last I heard).

However, poorer people and brown people are less likely to vote in general elections than are Pākehā (which generally means people of European ancestry). In my view, this is mainly because they’re considerably younger as a group than are Pākehā (young people of all groups have very, very low voting rates), and considerably less likely to own their home than Pākehā, both of which mean they don’t see that they have anything personally at stake. In a battlefield surrendered to older Pākehā who own property, it’d be a high hill for a brown progressive to climb. So, I’m disappointed by the results but not even remotely surprised.

Naturally, political journalists have labelled the win as a “sign of trouble” for the Labour government in the general election next year, which is just plain dumb. Next year is next year—we cannot possibly know what will happen over the next 12 months: Will the Russian dictator start a nuclear war? Will Covid come roaring back worse than before? We cannot know what the world will be like when the election is actually held, and this election can’t be used as some sort of crystal ball, especially because the results were so mixed.

Ward Councillors

I was entitled to vote in the North Shore Ward, which elects two Councillors. The top vote getter was my friend Richard Hills (who I’ve talked about many times on this blog, and I obviously voted for him). He received 19,269 votes. The second-place candidate, who was also elected, was Chris Darby, who received 17,123 votes. I voted for him, too (I’ve met Chris a few times, but I don’t know him all that well). Both Richard and Chris were incumbents—and both endured some horrendous personal attacks on top of a constant barrage of aggressively negative campaigning.

If the results for the Auckland mayoralty don’t really tell us much about voters’ mood, then the races for Auckland Councillor confuse things even more. In a couple cases conservative candidates defeated more progressive ones—and in a couple cases it was the exact opposite. A few incumbents were defeated, many others were re-elected. Commentators and partisans will try, but the results simply can’t be used to prognosticate any more than the mayoral election can.

Local Board Members

I was entitled to vote in the Kaipātiki Local Board (KLB) election, which elects eight members. The eight people elected were ALL from a motley assortment of candidates running on the “Shore Action” ticket, which is made up of a family associated with the now defunct left-leaning Alliance Party, as well as candidates associated with the National Party. I didn’t vote for any of their candidates this election because I assumed they’d again win control of the KLB. I was tempted to vote for one of their candidates, but I didn’t in the end because I didn’t want to strengthen their odds due to the spoiler effect inherent in the antidemocratic first past the post election system.

Instead, I voted only for the five Labour candidates, one of whom I served on a community organisation’s board with. The Labour candidates came in spots eleven to fifteen (the person who came in tenth was another person from that community organisation board). All up, there were 23 candidates vying for those eight positions, reinforcing the probability of negative consequences from the spoiler effect.

I don’t know most of the people elected to the KLB, and I don’t even know how many were seeking re-election. The previous election was in October 2019, and I was a bit preoccupied with far more important things at that time (in fact, the 2019 election materials arrived in the mail the day Nigel died; I don't think we planned to vote through the ratepayer roll that year, but, as I said, I was a bit preoccupied). Because I don’t really know most of the folks on their team, I don’t have anything against the team as such (there’s at least that one who’s good, and almost got my vote). However, I think it’s bad for democracy to have one party or bloc or whatever hold all the seats on a representative body.

And that’s it for the elections I was entitled to vote in. As I’ve said, nothing can be read into the results nationwide, especially when maybe 40% could even be bothered to vote. On the other hand, the voters of Gore (in the South Island) elected the youngest mayor in New Zealand history, 23-year-old Ben Bell—and by a whopping eight votes. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has already tried to declare that’s an indicator of what’ll happen next year, too.

NZ voters send local government a message: ‘Meh.’ – the first post in this series
Hamilton voters shrug – My post about the elections in Hamilton


Roger Owen Green said...

Well, you're a fine citizen. But that's a lot of complicated stuff to keep track of, to this American's mind.

Arthur Schenck said...

It would be far easier if all the voting was done by STV. And, of course, most people only have to keep track of one local government.