Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Lots of rural voters turn out

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Rural people have again punched above their weight in the local body elections.
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While the nation managed only a 41% turnout, rural voters stepped up to average almost 57% voting this year.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) classifies the country’s electorates as urban with more than 90,000 people, provincial with 20,000-90,000 and rural with fewer than 20,000.

The results showed Mackenzie, Westland, Grey and Kaikoura districts and the Chatham Islands all exceeding 60% on voter turnout. Multiple rural and provincial areas recorded voter turnouts over 50%. 

That contrasted with the paltry sub-40% turnouts in some major urban centres.

Federated Farmers rates expert Nigel Billings said the high rural turnout is typical and a trend that has been maintained over many electoral cycles.

“We would argue this has a lot to do with farmer participation. 

“When you have a $10,000 rates demand you tend to take a real interest in what is going on at city hall. 

“There is a bigger disconnect in the larger cities between ratepayers and their council.” 

He maintains the Feds offered a solid election platform to educate rural voters and it was successful.

“We had to extend the print run for more copies and we have even had interest in it from urban electorates.”

Billings said there is good representation on councils by farmers with the likes of federation Gisborne-Wairoa president Sandra Faulkner and Kerry Worsnop on the Gisborne District Council.

Farmer representation extended to Buller District electing local dairy farmer Jamie Cleine as mayor.

LGNZ policy adviser Dr Mike Reid said the smaller size of rural electorates means candidates are generally better known to their constituents and, therefore, trusted.

“It can also be a case of also knowing better who you do not want to be standing. There is a level of social capital there where people have built relationships.”

Reid said LGNZ is also interested in the greater proportion of younger candidates elected this time round.

“If you take the Far North District Council we now have 40% of the council younger than 40 years old.”

He also welcomed the growing proportion of women on councils, with 30% of mayors now female.

“This is the first time for a long time we have seen women on the West Coast District Council also.”

Despite media articles about the low level of voter turnout Reid feels optimistic about how voting went.

“I tend to look at international figures and you cannot expect local election turnout to be as strong as central government elections. 

“But compared to other countries NZ sits about in the middle for local body election turnout. If you compare us to countries like Scotland or United Kingdom where local bodies are similar or to Western Australia or South Australia, our turnout is much better.”

The UK has averaged only about 33% turnout since 2012.

Reid said it is arguable whether online voting will necessarily increase voter participation.

“The main factor when we ask people about voting is that it requires some research and you still have to do that even if you are voting with a smartphone.”

He noted, however, there will have to be some assessment of voting methods in the longer term, given the continuing reduction in NZ Post services.

“NZ Post has to increase its delivery frequency for the elections and the cost increase to do that was 30% greater than the last election and that cost gets passed on to councils. There is a risk there over the sustainability of the service and the cost.”

Voter turnout

Top 5 councils % Voter turnout % Change on last election

Chatham Islands 68.9% -3%

Westland 63.9% 5%

Grey 63.1% 14%

Kaikoura 61.4% 4%

Mackenzie 60.5% -4%

Bottom 5 Councils % Voter turnout % Change on last election

Auckland 34.8% -4%

Palmerston North 37.3% -2%

Hamilton 38.8% 5%

Wellington 39.9% -6%

Porirua 40% 2%

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