Record low vote threat

Voter turnout for the Dunedin City Council elections is still hovering at record low levels, despite a last-minute rush of returns.

But a University of Otago academic yesterday raised questions about the composition of the new council, with at least five new councillors to be elected.

By late last night, just 36.90% of eligible voters had returned their forms, compared with 46.50% at the same point in 2010, when voter turnout eventually reached 52.96%.

Voting closes at noon tomorrow.

University of Otago political studies lecturer Associate Prof Janine Hayward warned yesterday the low turnout was ''a concern'' that could create a ''vicious circle''.

As turnout dropped, those who opted out could be left with a council they felt did not represent them, discouraging them from voting again, she warned.

It could also mean individual groups found themselves under-represented on the new council.

''The environmental, social and economic challenges we face in Dunedin require much more, not less, local democracy and it is important that we understand and address these issues once we know the final turnout figures this weekend.''

The low turnout in Dunedin is reflected across the South and most of the country further north, with voters staying away in droves, despite a last-minute rush.

In Auckland, voting returns have crawled to 31.25%, compared to 45.6% at the corresponding point in 2010, while in Christchurch they were 38.63%, down from 46.42% in 2010.

Only Wellington was bucking the trend, with returns up slightly to 34.60% compared with 32.80% in 2010.

The results have already prompted Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule to suggest online voting in local body elections should be fast-tracked to encourage greater participation.

Dunedin electoral officer Pam Jordan, who earlier this week described the voter return as ''disappointingly low'', said yesterday the returns to date were ''still low''.

That was despite a ''little flurry'' of activity on Wednesday which saw 5074 postal votes processed - the most in a single day for the DCC election.

DCC staff also had ''about 660'' voting papers hand-delivered to the Civic Centre yesterday, which would be couriered to Christchurch for processing, she said.

Those still hoping to vote had until midday tomorrow to hand-deliver their completed forms to the Civic Centre in Dunedin, she said.

Any arriving tomorrow - if received before the strict midday deadline - would be flown north by a council staff member for counting, Ms Jordan said.

Results were expected tomorrow night, but exactly when would also depend on the number of last-minute votes, she said.

In Central Otago, daily returns had increased from 26 on Tuesday to more than 1600 in the last two days, electoral officer Kara Leckie said.

Mrs Leckie had earlier expressed her disappointment changes to ''across-town'' postal delivery targets, from one day to up to three days, apparently had an impact on the number of votes received on Tuesday.

The changes took effect on Monday.

A New Zealand Post spokesman said despite the changes, any votes posted on Wednesday would be processed before the election deadline.

Invercargill City Council returning officer Graham Low predicted this year's total for the city would be well down on the 60% who eventually voted in 2010.

The return figures for the Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Clutha and Waitaki councils were updated late last night, while the others were from late yesterday afternoon.



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