Voter apathy is proving to be an issue in Taranaki, with nearly three out of every four New Plymouth voters yet to return their ballot papers.
With only a week until voting closes, it appears the region is following a national trend of low participation in local elections.
At last count, 26 per cent of New Plymouth voters had returned their papers to date, compared with 33 per cent at the same time during the last local election.
That means, of the 54,627 voting papers sent out this year, only 14,375 have been returned.
Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) president Lawrence Yule is urging Taranaki residents to vote.
"It is a fundamental democratic right that gives people the ability to influence the decisions made in their community.
"Voting will take five minutes . . . and I strongly urge people to do so. That's what democracy is about."
In total, just under half of New Zealand's eligible voters cast their ballot in 2010, when New Plymouth voter participation was 56 per cent.
The 2013 voter apathy trend continues in the Stratford and South Taranaki districts, with 30 per cent of voting papers having been returned in both areas.
Electoral officer Barry Rollo said New Plymouth voters may be finding it difficult to decide which boxes to tick, with the high number of candidates running for the city ward this year.
There are 35 candidates in the race for 10 city ward seats.
Research commissioned by LGNZ showed 31 per cent of people chose not to vote because they did not know enough about the candidates.
But LGNZ chief executive Malcolm Alexander said that problem could easily be solved.
"You can find out which candidates are standing in your area by reading your voting papers, or simply by going to vote.co.nz and typing in your address."
Mr Alexander urged voters to get their papers in on time, as the survey also showed 24 per cent of non-voters said they had left it too late to post their ballot papers back.
New Plymouth's deputy registrar of electors, Maria Pirela, said people could vote until noon on October 12.
"People can hand-deliver their voting papers to the Civic Centre on Liardet St, as well as to libraries in Bell Block, Inglewood and Waitara."
They can also be left at council buildings in Stratford and Hawera.
Even for people who have not received their voting documents, it is still possible to make a special vote at any of those locations.
Mr Rollo said voters just needed to produce identification, such as a driver's licence or passport.
Those who had not updated their address on the electoral roll since moving to Taranaki were also able to make a special vote in the region.
Mr Alexander said local elections were the best time for people to have a say in their community and decide who would make the decisions that affected most people's daily lives. "I would urge people to fill in their ballot and get it into the post today."
2013 voting numbers to date compared with the same time in 2010:
New Plymouth: 2013 – 26 per cent, 2010 – 33 per cent
Stratford: 2013 – 30 per cent, 2010 – 32 per cent
South Taranaki: 2013 – 30 per cent, 2010 – 32 per cent
2010 Total voting numbers:
Percentage of eligible voters who participated in the 2010 local elections: New Zealand: 49 per cent
New Plymouth: 56 per cent
Stratford: 46 per cent South Taranaki: 46 per cent
CASTING A VOTE
If you are on the electoral roll you should have received your voting papers in the post.
If you are not, enrol online now at elections.org.nz, call 0800 367 656 or pick up a form at any New Zealand Post shop.
If you are on the electoral roll, but have not received your voting papers, you can still collect a special voting paper from your district council, or by calling the electoral officer on 759 6109.
Depending on where you live, you will have either four or five elections to vote for using your voting documents.
The elections are for mayor, district council, regional council and district health board. Depending on where you live, you may also be able to vote for a community board.
You can vote in as many or as few of the elections on your paper as you choose.
Read the voting instructions carefully.
Mayoral, district council, regional council and community board elections use the first past the post (FPP) system. This means you tick the circle beside the candidate(s) you wish to vote for.
The number of candidates you can vote for in each election will be indicated at the top your voting paper and will depend on where you live.
If you vote for more candidates than stated, your vote will be invalid.
For example, you can only vote for one mayoral candidate. If you vote for more than one, your vote will not be counted.
The district health board election uses the single transferable voting (STV) system, meaning you need to rank candidates numerically.
Write the number 1 in the box beside the candidate you most want to be elected. Write the number 2 next to your second most preferred candidate. You can number as many or as few of the 19 candidates as you wish.
Remember to use a tick (or ticks) for the FPP elections and a number (or numbers) for the STV (district health board) election.
After voting, place your document in the envelope provided and return it in the post. Make sure you have it in the post by Wednesday, October 9.
If you have lost your return envelope you can use an envelope of your own and send to this freepost address:
The Electoral Officer
Private Bag 2025
New Plymouth Central
New Plymouth 4342
You can also deliver your voting document to one of the voting boxes up to noon on Saturday, October 12.
Voting boxes are at the civic centre, Liardet St, New Plymouth, the Stratford District Council, Miranda St, Stratford and the South Taranaki District Council, Albion St, Hawera or call the electoral officer on 759 6109 to find your nearest voting box.
- Susan Strongman is a Witt journalism student.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Should ratepayers fork out for increased security to keep vandals at bay in Pukekura Park?Related story: Cameras set to catch vandals