Editorial: Tick-tock on those ticks, team

Poll: Local Government election day, October 9, 2010 was, for so many of us, a sorrowful one.

In fact it was labelled "heartbreaking". Yes, we were partisan. So what? Why wouldn't you be?

To be fair, staring at those mordant final figures, we did try to be gracious in our congratulations to the victors. But it wasn't the result this newspaper, nor we believe the huge majority of our readers, wanted.

Canterbury 26, Southland 16.

And off went the Ranfurly Shield. Bugger. Most people were prepared to acknowledge that the local body election results, issued just a few hours earlier that day, mattered as well. But the pitch of excitement wasn't remotely the same.

It would be silly to lament this. On balance, voting for our civic leaders is ideally less a feverish occasion than the conclusion of a considered process.

Perhaps not necessarily dispassionate, though.

Because the stakes are really high, in terms of the wellbeing of our city, towns and rural districts, and also of our highly put-upon household finances.

Anyone who declares local government to be dull isn't keeping up with the forces that work in their own lives.

The people we elect to our council and community boards have their hand in our pockets, whether we pay directly through rates or indirectly through rents. Our health boards, and maybe licensing trusts, are also going to make decisions that affect us.

These outfits can improve things for us, or worsen them. They can be meddlesome, intrusive, and reckless with our money. Or they can be inert, passive and gormless, leaving hard decisions to lie untaken. They can provide facilities we're pretty sure we don't need and deny ones that we really do.

Alternatively, a detail so minor we hesitate to raise it, they can get things about right. Sometimes.

The low voter turnout nationwide is a reliable cause for lamentation. It could be interpreted as indicating general contentment - or general cynicism. A lack of trust in existing and aspiring politicians - or in the significance of our own votes. Maybe it all seems a bit hard to figure out what's the right thing to do.

Well, nowhere is it written that we have to vote to fill every vacancy. Vote for those in whom you are confident. Withold your votes from those you know you don't want. Right there, with those two (frankly agreeable) tasks completed, you're already playing a useful role. You can vote for as few from each list as you wish and you have until October 12 to figure out how many that is.

The next local body elections, three years from now, will include a trial of online voting in a bid to increase the turnout. Reasonably enough, it's in large part an attempt not only to make voting more convenient, but also to encourage young voters.

The scolding cliche has it that if you don't vote you have no right to complain during the next three years. In truth, there won't be anything to stop you complaining. But the fact remains that complaining generally achieves less than voting does. And now's when you get to do it.

The Southland Times