The turnout for the local body elections was 41% of those on the electoral roll, down from 46% three years ago. This suggests a real disconnect.
One thing which may help improve turnout is to allow voting via the Internet, as Peter Griffin advocates. I certainly support this and it should be used in 2010. Those who raise security concerns should look at the lack of authentication with current voting. No ID proof needed to enrol. No proof of ID to cast a vote in person. No authentication for postal votes.
But I think the problem goes far beyond how people vote. I think it comes back to basic questions about whether people really make informed choices for local body elections, as oppossed to merely going off name recognition.
I probably follow the politics of my local city council, regional council and health board more than 99% of the population. Yet even I often am having to vote for people on the basis of how well written their 200 word official blurb is, or on a faint impression of them.
So let us look at a system which does work fairly well – electing Parliament. Why does that get a far higher turnout and reflect a better informed choice than local body? Well, partly because one is making far simpler choices, on far more information.
Basically we get asked only two things every three years. Which party do we prefer, and which which person do we want as our local MP? Now over the three year cycle there will have been a political story every day on TV, and two or three in the print press. Even the most turned off from politics person gets enough saturation to be able to have a party preference. They can use this as a candidate preference also.
Now look at what we ask for local elections? We expect people to choose not only a Mayor, but select or rank three city councillors, half a dozen regional councillors and half a dozen DHB members. Hell, if I struggle on making informed choices for all of these, no wonder so many don’t vote.
So it occurs to me the trick is to keep it simple stupid. Have smaller wards with just one Councillor per ward. People are asked to simply select the person they most want as their local body representative. That will be a lot easier for voters – most people have at least one candidate they know enough about to select. It also means the local Councillor is the sole representative for that area – so people know who to go to for assistance or issues.
Now there would be two ways to do this. Using Wellington as an example, one would split the five City wards into say 15 wards and each suburb would effectively be a ward. So I would vote for one Thorndon Councillor instead of three Lampton Councillors.
Another way would be to merge regional and local councils, and if you had one Council for Greater Wellington, then you’d have five wards in Wellington City, two or three in the Hutt, a couple in Mana, one in Kapiti and one in Wairarapa.
I’d abolish DHB elections. They’re a sham and just about deluding the public into thinking there is local control, when in fact all major decisions are made by central Government. DHBs are just fall guys.
So in my ideal system, you’d be asked to make just two selections. Who do you want as Mayor of Wellington and who do you want as the local Councillor for Thorndon/Lampton? If that is all people are asked, I predict you’ll get a significantly higher voter turnout, and just as importantly far more informed decisions.