Supercity elections - post your vote now
With only a week or so to return submissions for the biggest election that Auckland has had in decades, voter confusion is beginning to kick in highlighting some major inadequacies in the Electoral Commission's planning for the local body elections. As Deborah Hill Cone highlights in the Herald, we have serious problems when we have low voter confidence in the election of a mayor for a supercity that will affect more than one third of the population of New Zealand. I disagree with Cone when she says we haven't had any divisive issues that propel people to vote in this election: they are there, they have just been swept under the carpet. Whoever gets the post as mayor of the supercity is going to have to be able to perform under extreme pressure from various lobby groups and will be responsible for negotiating transportation, around $5 billion worth of water assets, tourism and so on.
The issues are there, they have just not been covered well by journalists or the candidates themselves. Clicking on candidates' websites, for example, it appears that nearly everyone has opted for the advertising mantra of simplicity and an appeal to emotions rather than actually stating policy. The chain of Herald readers complaining in the 'Your Views' section that they do not actually have enough information to vote on is of serious concern. Veteran activist Matt McCarten has responded to the vacuum of information with the posting of a list of his supercity picks, although reading through these the notion of picking a candidate on what a friend of a friend thinks is woefully inadequate and brings to mind the extraordinarily large number of people in the US 2008 elections who voted on gossip emails (McCain on holiday, Palin's daughter's baby was actually her own, and Obama is the anti-Christ were popular forms of this genre).
While one could easily state that the candidates have not been helpful in their general behaviour, particularly those running for mayor, there has been little pressure in media coverage for focus on actual policies. In other words, if you are time pressured and cannot make it to the local meetings, you are completely devoid of any information on who to vote for.
But make no mistake that within this vacuum of information there is not a serious power battle going on over the shear amount of resources the Supercity mayor and councillors will be in charge of. Rodney Hide's appointment as the Minister of Local Government saw him pushing through an amendment to the Local Government Act 2002 that allowed the amount spent on Supercity mayoral candidacy to rise to $580,000 in the last three months, effectively excluding anyone who does not have a spare half a million lying around. Michelle Boag being caught out sniffing around for support for the Banks team just a week ago also signals that within the National Party, Banks is preferred candidate.
None of the above should come as a surprise to the Electoral Commission. While nearly 80% vote for the General Elections, the Auckland Local Government election turnout has been less than 40% for the last few elections. One would think that the Commission would plan for this and have initiatives to increase voter participation, such as including all candidates' information on a central website hub, which would involve moving with the times and incorporating new technology. Following this election, there is an urgent need for an inquiry into whether the Electoral Commission can improve the way voters receive information.
I cannot urge you enough to get out there and post your vote before October 6 2010 as what you decide will affect Auckland. If you take a photo of yourself doing it (which I'm sure is illegal but hey) Media7 reporter Simon Pound is putting on a gig at the King's Arms featuring The Mots, The Situations and The Earlybirds, which is free for those who can prove they voted. There is also free pizza for those who arrive before seven.