Southern health board poll turnout 51.25%

The turnout by Otago voters in the recent Southern District Health Board elections was the fourth highest in the country, but the Southland percentage was below the national average.

In Otago, 54.3% of voters used their opportunity to elect four members.

In the Southland constituency, 46.1% cast votes for the three available seats.

The national average was 48.4%, up about 6% on the 2007 elections.

The newly merged board is the only one in the country to have two constituencies and, when the figures are combined, they give a voting turnout of 51.25% of electors for the whole board area.

Apart from Southland, all other South Island boards had a turnout over 50%, with South Canterbury participation the highest across the country on 56.5%.

The board with the least interest from voters was Waikato (38.7%), followed by Capital and Coast (39.6%).

While Southlanders may not have turned out in high numbers to vote, when they did they showed they knew what they were doing, recording the highest percentage of valid votes in the country on 92.9%, an improvement of more than 10% on Southland's 2007 results.

Otago voters were still above the national average for valid votes, with 88% of voters getting it right, compared with the national 84%.

Ministry of Health manager of governance and Crown entities David Pannett said the national figures showed that in the past two elections the percentage of valid votes had increased by 1% to 84%, but this year the number of informal votes had dropped several percent to 5.8%.

This suggested that voters, with their third single transferable vote (STV) election, were "getting the hang of it".

Also, with smaller numbers of candidates in some areas, people had found it easier.

In the past, where there were two columns of candidates, one of the common errors noted was that people ranked each column, rather than ranking candidates as a complete group.

While the percentage of blank votes was up 1.4% on 10.2%, one of the possible reasons for that was that in areas where there were strong mayoral contests, some voters may have chosen to vote for the mayoralty and little else.

Supporting that theory, Auckland District Health Board had the highest percentage of blank votes cast on 14.9%, followed by another board in the Auckland super-city area, Waitemata (11.7%).

In the past, one of the common reasons people gave for not voting for health boards was that they did not know enough about the candidates.

In this election, candidates had been able to put out extra information online on the Local Government OnLine website, something which could have been helpful to increase information to the voter.

Improving participation in board elections was "a work in progress" and was among the issues being addressed by the Society of Local Government Managers electoral working party.

This group included experienced electoral officers, representatives from the ministry, district health boards and Local Government NZ.

Mr Pannett said a joint approach worked better than each sticking to their "own little patch".

At this stage, it is not known when the four ministerial appointees will be announced for each board.

Mr Pannett said announcements would be made before the new boards took office in early December, but no time was available.

In the past, board chairmen and their deputies have been announced ahead of the other appointees.

elspeth.mclean@odt.co.nz

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