Does Online Voting Really Fix The Local Elections Turnout Problem?

Another important local body election is close to being done, and another mediocre voter turnout suggests a big divide between interest and effort.

Amazingly enough, votes in Hamilton managed to surpass the totals achieved in the last three local body elections. Such an outcome looked unlikely earlier in the week with many commentators slamming the low turnout, not just in Hamilton, but around the country.

Before you go celebrating, however, consider putting the wine back on the shelf for another occasion. Voter turnout in local body elections has a big problem, and it’s not easily solved.

You’d suspect that the same people who don’t bother to go to the polls this week will be the same that wouldn’t have a great answer if you were to ask about the pressing matters in the local political scene.

Key case in point, do they simply not care about what’s going on locally? Or, at the very least, do they think that it’s somehow less important than what’s happening nationally?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to assume that both outcomes are likely in play. It could also be a case of pure and utter laziness, and if that is the case, candidates deserve a hell of a lot better.

What’s inherently striking is that the line-up of candidates for both council and mayor this year has been diverse; arguably more diverse than ever before. However, striking that it may be, this was to be expected given how accessible entry into politics has become via the ability to reach large masses of people through social media.

Take young-gun Louise Hutt in her candidacy for Mayor of Hamilton as a great example, I sat up and took notice when she implemented a bot via messenger on her official campaign page. Such a thing might seem simple and unimportant but it provides a level of interactivity, utilizing modern technology, that many senior politicians would never consider nor have the technical know-how to integrate into a campaign.

Speaking of diversity and the modern-minded politician; how about Tim Young and his fight for a seat on council? Not only is Young passionate about climate change and how society needs to keep the pace with technology, but he also gives a political presence to Hamilton’s not so small disabled community, something he appears to embrace yet not have it front and centre.

These are just two of the names that appealed to me and not the least of which was because of how they were attempting to engage in that online social space, building on top of an already solid local effort in the Waikato.

Yet, it all feels like a fleeting success at best, with a serious discussion needing to be had quickly in the aftermath.

Voter turnout in 2019, whilst it ended up being more compared to last time, remains at a level that suggests many local voters don’t place the same importance on the various issues being campaigned for.

Or, you might counter, it could be simply a matter of the basically un-informed and ignorant believing that local politics doesn’t mean enough to go out and make the effort. Take that at face value, because it’s likely true at this moment in time, and then tell that to them when they have to pay their rates bill each year.

What goes on locally actually does have an impact, and a significant one at that.

Yet many of those same would-be local voters will be quick to line-up and cast their decision in 2020, when New Zealand chooses whether to legalize cannabis or not (just one example) and decide whether Labour continues its reign or National takes back over.

Yes, we are talking about Central Government in this instance, but it’s an important footnote because that’s where far more attention seems to be placed. Having online voting ability (or not having it) won’t cause the outcome in 2020 to swing one way over another, all it will likely do is further increase the gap between local government voters and central government voters.

For that I say, yes, we need to implement the ability for New Zealanders to cast their vote online.

Start by doing it in 2020 for the big one, and then try again in 2022 when the next local elections occur. Let’s see if the number of voters in the local body elections increases or not.

If we get that higher voter turnout, then great, but to what next if we don’t? Nobody wants the divide to increase, but it’s time for a serious discussion as to why it’s become the case.

City Councillor fears for lack of community vibe around Peacocke build

Hamilton City Councillor Paula Southgate says that communities need to be built around the new housing areas in the Peacocke and Rotokauri areas in order to make the infrastructure deal a real success.

Farmland in Hamilton’s southern boundaries will be turned into residential housing after the city received a $272m loan from Government as part of the Housing Infrastructure Fund. It means a further 3700 houses in the next ten years, but crucially, growth in the south of the city.

But expansion isn’t going to be the ‘silver bullet’ for many of Hamilton’s ratepayers.

City councillor Paula Southgate says the work around creating flourishing communities in these areas should be high on the priority list.

“I’m a strong advocate for building a better city, not just a bigger city, because bigger is not always better.”

Concerns have arisen from ratepayers as to the actual number of dollars being spent on housing builds in Peakcocke. Numbers revealed by the Waikato Times on Tuesday suggested that very little, if any, of the money was being spent on anything other than infrastructure.

A new bridge across the Waikato River plus a serious expansion of Wairere Drive takes up $56.5m alone.

“The question to be asked is, how do we fund our new housing areas and how do we fund the city. That includes the existing facilities and services. We need to make sure we provide for ratepayers, both current and incoming, so we need to make sure these housing areas actually have real communities.”

It is the role of the City Council to provide infrastructure that opens up opportunities for housing before developers can begin work.

Southgate says that there is no point in borrowing all the money from Government if the city cannot use it in a useful way.

Decisions will be made in the coming weeks when Council sits down to discuss its Ten Year Plan. Hamilton is already under pressure to provide answers over the future of several community facilities. Southgate is cautious that a lack of development for community services will face similar issues in Peacocke as to what is currently being seen in the north of the city.

The ‘silver bullet’ Southgate talks about on her Facebook page isn’t easily found, but Southgate is adamant that different alternatives

“I just don’t believe that building a very large new subdivision is going to immediately address house prices and availability”.

More on this will be discussed during a full interview with Southgate this Friday on Free FM.