Taking part in the process

It is, as they say, time to vote.

Today marks the beginning of the local body elections voting period, and your opportunity to have a say on who will wear mayoral chains, sit in council chairs, and join district health boards.

Between now and when voting closes at noon on October 12, just a few minutes of your time - and a series of ticks and rankings - will contribute meaningfully to the democratic process.

The challenge, as always, will be to vote in as informed a way as possible. Hopefully, you have caught plenty of pre-election coverage in the Otago Daily Times and our various sister community newspapers, and on Channel 39.

You have had a chance to hear from the candidates and ponder their promises and proclamations. You have gained some insight into the major issues facing your town and region. You have been given a clear understanding of how to vote and why it is important. You might have chatted to family members, friends or work colleagues about who said what, and why so-and-so was likely to make an excellent mayor or councillor.

And, hopefully, plenty of you will follow through by getting that postal ballot away in time.

Turnout at a national level was just 42% in the previous local body election cycle three years ago. It hasn't been above 50% since 1989. At 45.2%, Dunedin had the third-highest turnout in New Zealand.

Why do people choose not to vote? Some forget, some struggle to find the time, some simply don't care.

Plenty have also highlighted the anachronism of filling out paper forms, but that is the system we have to use for now - and one only needs to reflect on the disastrous Census to appreciate the difficulty of getting online voting established.

Ours is a regional newspaper, but we have rightly highlighted the Dunedin mayoralty as perhaps the single most important, and potentially interesting, "race" in this election cycle in the South.

Dave Cull's decision to stand down after three terms means Dunedin is searching for just a fourth mayor in a quarter of a century. It will also be the only place in the South guaranteed to have a new mayor come October 12.

It is a big job, and it is important we elect a person who is up to the task. Personality, politics, policies, previous experience and knowledge - take them all into account, and cast your vote accordingly.

The range of candidates bidding for the Dunedin mayoralty has added to the intrigue. They range in age from 24 to 67. There are men, women and a transgender candidate. Their council experience ranges from multiple terms around the DCC table to absolutely zero. They have their own attributes, skills and strengths.

All essentially want the same thing - a great city in which to live - but naturally all have differing views on how we get there. Their job is to convince you that words can be put into action.

And perhaps "action" is the important word this year. For Dunedin is a city on the move, buoyed by a growing population and economy and a sense that things are starting to happen.

Infrastructural challenges, a hospital rebuild, the central city plan, climate change, transport - these are big Dunedin issues that need big plans, and a mayor who can guide them.

Mayors might get only one vote around the council table, but they play a huge role in shaping a city. And local government is not always exciting - reading some agendas and reports can take years off your life - but it is important.

Your prospective mayors, city councillors, district councillors, regional councillors, health board members and licensing trust members await your decision.

You have the power. Go and exercise it.


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