Controversial issues revive flagging voter interest

For the first time in more than a decade, there is an increase in interest in voting for local authorities.

The effect of that trend is being seen in Dunedin, where an increase that became apparent last week has grown as the voting period has continued.

The reason, University of Otago political studies department senior lecturer Dr Chris Rudd said last night, was likely to be more "interesting and colourful" campaigns, candidates and debates - something that was good for democracy at a local level.

Dr Rudd likened a boring election to watching the All Blacks win 100-nil.

While people might like the score, they were less likely to be interested in the game.

If candidates were "colourless and lacklustre", voters did not get involved.

Postal votes from Dunedin have been tallied for the past 17 days, and last week began to show a clear increase compared with the last election in 2007.

By Tuesday, the daily count began to top the figures from the 2004 election, ending yesterday at 40.7%, compared with 39.1% at the same time in 2004.

The increase is the first since a steady decline began more than a decade ago.

In Dunedin, final returns were 65.4% in 1998, 56% in 2001, 54.7% in 2004, and 47.4% in 2007.

This year it is expected to be about 55%.

A tighter mayoral election - initially - and three years of controversy over stadiums and debt appears to be having an effect in Dunedin.

A spokesman for electionz.com, the Christchurch company contracted to carry out election counting for 35 New Zealand local governments, said this week there was an increase of about 10% in returns, something he said may have been caused by heightened awareness of council issues.

Dr Rudd said television debates between Auckland super-city candidates, and the race between incumbent Bob Parker and rival Jim Anderton for the Christchurch city mayoralty made those campaigns more interesting for voters.

The same could be said for Dunedin, where there were controversial issues.

It was not surprising the vote was lower last election in Dunedin, when Mayor Peter Chin was so far ahead in polling.

This year, "people who have wanted change have had to go out and vote", Dr Rudd said.

"I would generally say people get interested in something if the people involved are interesting."

david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

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