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Mayor urges people to get involved in democracy

1 September 2005

Mayor urges people to get involved in democracy as Council stays with First Past the Post voting system for 2007 elections.

Waitakere City Council this week voted to stay with the traditional First Past the Post voting system, for its 2007 elections and Mayor Bob Harvey has urged Waitakere residents to get out and vote in elections.

“Democracy is something that millions in the world don't have and yet here in New Zealand, a lot of people don’t just take it for granted - they don’t even seem to care at all,” the Mayor says.

The Council made the decision as part of its is review of the city’s electoral system, which includes choosing between the traditional First Past the Post (FPP) voting system or the Single Transferable Vote system (STV).

Under First Past the Post, candidates who have the most votes when all votes have been counted, become elected councillors or community board members.

Under STV, voters are asked to list all the candidates in order of preference – with their favourite candidate at the top of the list and their least favourite at the bottom. Under this system, the winning candidates must win a quota of the votes. There is a number of vote counts and in each one, the lowest polling candidates are eliminated and the votes they received are shared out between the remaining candidates. This process is repeated until enough candidates have enough votes to win a seat.

Waitakere City Electoral Officer Darryl Griffin says District Health Boards must use STV for their elections (which happen at the same time as Council elections) but Councils may choose whether to use FPP or STV.

The Council will soon lodge a public notice advertising its decision to stay with First past the Post.

Mr Griffin says that the law requires the Council to review its election system.

“Another thing that has to be decided is whether to stay with the ward system, in which Councillors are elected to represent a ward of the city, with the Mayor elected city-wide,” Mr Griffin says.

“The other options are to do away with the ward system and have all councillors elected city-wide, like the mayor or; to have a mix in which some councillors are elected by ward and others city-wide,” he says.

Mr Griffin says that if the Council decides to keep the ward system, it will have to decide whether to keep the present four wards or change the number.

“If they keep the present wards, changes will have to be made to them. Since the last elections, the law has been changed and now the ratio of residents to elected members may not vary by more than 10%, from ward to ward. This means that in order to keep the same four wards with the same numbers of councillors in each one, we will have to adjust the boundaries.

“But that is only one option. The Council could change the number of wards. That would be quite a complex task, deciding how many wards there should be, where to put the boundaries and the reasons for doing so - and so on. This is the discussion we will be having with Councillors in the coming weeks and months,” Mr Griffin says.

The next step in the review process could be a decision on whether to introduce separate Maori wards. Once again, recent changes to the law, requires Councils to consider this option and Waitakere City Council is awaiting a report from its Te Taumata Runanga Committee, following consultation with the Maori community.

“That report is expected this month and we anticipate the Council will want to discuss the report and possibly make a decision, at its September meeting,” Mr Griffin says.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bob Harvey has, expressed disappointment at the level of public interest in the issue of how the city runs its elections. The Council held five public meetings, workshops and focus group meetings on the issue, but a total of just 52 people attended.

"Over a number of years the voter turnout at local elections has been poor (as low as 36% in some cases)," he says. "A number of different systems have been tried, but nothing seems to fire people up."

"I think there is just a general apathy. People are too busy getting on with their lives to worry about their local community and some of them think that their vote just doesn't count. That's sad.

Mr Griffin agrees and says that there will be public consultation on the various issues and he is examining ways to engage the public effectively.

ENDS

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