Low turnout linked to lack of connection

If you don't vote, don't be surprised if councillors don't look like you.

Massey University local government specialist Christine Cheyne said when voter turnout was low, councils typically ended up being less representative of the population.

Young, Maori, poorer, or non-English speakers residents were the most likely not to vote.

"These people are not part of the more affluent or mainstream voting mix so don't vote as they don't see people like themselves in local government."

Those groups also tended not to stand for election, creating a "vicious cycle" of non-representation, Dr Cheyne said.

Council election turnout is typically low. Only 39.54 per cent of eligible voters in Wellington City cast a ballot at the 2010 elections. As of yesterday afternoon 18.66 per cent had returned their postal votes so far this year.

Voting papers for the local body elections must be returned by no later than noon next Saturday, October 12.

Developments such as e-voting had massive potential to capture younger voters, but there also needed to be more awareness of the role councils performed, Dr Cheyne said.

"They have a huge influence on our quality of life and are the ones we are likely to contact if things are not going right. They are important for representing the needs and views of the local community to central government as well."

Knowing more about each candidate would help people feel informed enough to vote, she said.

"The candidate profile booklets are an improvement on nothing, but they're far from sufficient for informing us, because they are largely ‘motherhood and apple pie' statements, candidates saying what people want to hear, not talking about their track record and where they really stand on issues."

Local elections do not tend to inspire the same "get out the vote" efforts from politicians as for general elections.

But the desire to soak up any last-minute mayoral votes meant incumbent Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown's campaign team would be out next Saturday encouraging people to hand in their papers before the noon deadline.

Campaign manager Alastair Nicholson said election rules prohibited candidates from offering voters rides to council buildings to drop off voting papers, but they would be encouraging people to make the walk themselves.

"On Saturday morning we will be out at fairs and festivals and in town encouraging people to head to council and drop off their forms."

Rival mayoral candidate John Morrison said he was still working out his team's plan for the last day of voting.

"It will be a busy morning of cleaning up the campaign stuff and seeing if we can assist anybody who hasn't put their vote in just yet.

"There's a limited amount we can do though, it's up to the individual in the end."

The Dominion Post