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September 27, 2010 | by  | in Features |
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Why you should vote

Local body elections are upon us, with voting documents were sent out just over a week ago. Each eligible voter has until midday on Saturday 9 October to return their ballot paper via post. Whichever candidate gets the most votes, wins. If you’re enrolled in Dunedin, Wellington, or Porirua, however, things aren’t quite as simple as putting a tick in a box. This is also the case if you’re enrolled to vote for the Kaipara, Kapiti Coast, or Marlborough District Councils, but we’ll get to that.

The last round of local body elections in 2007 had the worst voter turnout since 1989, a year which saw a major restructuring of local government and voting procedures. A telephone survey after the election found that 51 per cent of voters were over the age of 55. Earlier in the year, Local Government New Zealand attempted to raise $1 million to increase turnout in local elections, especially in the 18-39 age bracket.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably in the 18-39 age bracket. This means that you’re less likely to vote than any other age group. Maybe mail confuses you. Maybe you’re disillusioned by the process of parliamentary democracy. Maybe you’re not enrolled, or you are, but in the “wrong place”.

Most likely, local body elections have never really meant that much to you, and if you’re only here for three years, why do they matter? If you enrolled in your home electorate, what difference does it mean you’re making if you do vote?

As it turns out, a fair bit. If you graduate, it’s fairly likely that you will be sticking around in this fair city for a few years afterwards. It might suck to start having to pay for water. It might rock to have free internet access along all of the waterfront. If you elect someone to mayoralty or a local council who is in line with your interests, it is likely (at least hopeful) that you will see some tangible effects of their leadership within the next three years.

If your chosen candidate doesn’t wind up trying to poison the water supply or anything too insane, you’ll have a performed a step in advancing whatever sort of political agenda you might hold close to your blackened heart. A representative on a city council will influence the amendments of the 10 year Long Term Council Community Plan, and the yearly Annual Plan. If someone who shares your views or priorities succeeds in pushing their agenda in a way that shapes policy and decision-making, you have in some way served to develop a society more in line with your concerns. If their actions are well implemented and received, maybe people will even start to understand your and the representative’s insistence that the world is going to shit because of peak oil/going to shit because of the nanny state/doomed to suffering at the hands of an eldritch horror.

This goes doubly for an electorate you enrolled in before moving to Wellington. If you grew up in an area, is it so wrong to want others who grow up there to have the same/more/less opportunities than you did when you were? Maybe 18+ years of growing up local has given you completely different priorities to someone who has only left the town once since their misguided attempt to sneak a housebus full of “friends” into an open-air musical festival showing Star Wars in the summer of ‘78.

If you’re enrolled to vote in any the City or District Councils I listed in the first paragraph, and in all District Health Board elections, your vote isn’t just a vote. In fact, it’s a Single Transferable Vote, or STV. Instead of ticking next to a candidate, you rank them in order of preference—that means using numbers. If a candidate gets more votes than their alloted quota, they are “automatically” given a position. Part of your vote is then transferred to your second choice until enough candidates have filled vacancies by passing their quota. This quota is established by taking the total number of valid votes, dividing it by the number of vacancies then adding one. More complicated flowcharts and exposition can be found at www.stv.govt.nz.

There’s only one way this works though—and that’s when you vote for a candidate whose politics and policies are in line with your own. There are some places you can go to make sure you make the right choice this year. www.elections2010.co.nz is a searchable database of candidates and their submitted personal information. If you’re concerned enough, some have even entered email and phone details for you to get in touch with them. With voting already underway, this is your last chance to address any concerns you might have.

Unfortunately, if your enrolment details aren’t correct by the time you reach this sentence you probably won’t receive your voting documents. You can fix this in time for the 2011 General election by going to https://secure.elections.org.nz/app/enrol/ and updating your details using the online form. You will still have to sign and return a confirmation of these details to the Registrar of Electors.

Just don’t screw it up next year.

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About the Author ()

Lewis has been playing videogames since his family's PC Direct "workstation" in early 1996. He spends his spare time reading political blogs, working and welcoming complaints and suggestions.

Comments (1)

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  1. Skalk says:

    **Remember too VOTE! **

    The WCC web site say that as of now 11 days left to fill in voting papers, the council on received 10.6 % of the total number of ballot papers.
    http://www.wellington.govt.nz/news/display-item.php?id=4149

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