Caution urged over electoral review

University of Otago politics professor Janine Hayward believes the rising voter turnout in...
University of Otago politics professor Janine Hayward believes the rising voter turnout in Dunedin and some other centres must be taken into account in any national review of local government elections. Photo: ODT Files
Dunedin-based politics professor Janine Hayward has sounded a note of caution over national calls for a "short, sharp" independent review of voter turnout for local government elections.

Local Government New Zealand has called for a review, saying it wants to see far more than four in 10 people voting in local elections.

LGNZ president Stuart Crosby said the organisation wanted to "work with central government to review how elections can be delivered more consistently and impactfully, including communication, engagement, the practicality of postal voting, and things like access to ballot boxes in more remote parts of the country".

Nationally, total voter turnout was at about 36%, although preliminary results in Dunedin showed turnout at 48.21% (or 46,508 voters), up from 45.6% in 2019.

LGNZ has called for a "short, sharp and independent review" to feed into the Future for Local Government Review as well as the review of Parliamentary Electoral Law.

However, Prof Hayward said any review needed to be carefully considered, and must take into account the centres, such as Dunedin, whose voter turnout had increased and must look at the reasons why.

"It is important that places like Dunedin and Wellington, where voter turnout is increasing, is part of that conversation," Prof Hayward said.

She believed Auckland’s low voter turnout, at just 31%, was due in part to its large pool of 1.2 million eligible voters.

"If we can tell anything from the history of local government, it is that the larger a city gets, the harder it is to get voter turnout."

It was a very complex issue, but one important factor for voter turnout was that people who felt their vote counted were more likely to vote.

"On an ongoing basis, if voters can see that their choices are reflected in who gets elected, that gives them confidence to vote."

In this election, there were a number of high-profile issues in Dunedin, which had encouraged people to to the ballot box.

"It is a really positive development for Dunedin that our voter turnout is increasing."

Postal voting had initially given voting numbers a boost nationally, but it could be time to rethink that given many people’s lack of engagement with post, Prof Hayward said.

"The orange voter bins were a good initiative, and the impact they had should be looked at."

Prof Hayward said the Future of Local Government review was due to come out at the end of October, and there would not be time for a a review of voter turnout to feed into it.

"I believe any review needs to be thorough and research based. We want to try and understand why some regions have seen such an increase in voter turnout while others have declined."