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Otago Survey Reveals Discontent Among Voters

Otago Survey Reveals Discontent Among Dunedin Voters

“A shambles”, “debacle”, “fiasco”, “waste of time”, “unacceptable”, “failure” – these were all terms used to describe the 2004 Dunedin local body elections by residents interviewed in a recent University of Otago research project.

The Otago Polling Research Centre, comprising researchers from the Departments of Marketing, Political Studies and Communication Studies, surveyed Dunedin residents following last year’s local body election to review public opinion of the election process.

Residents could opt to be surveyed via telephone, email/internet or post. What has emerged from the study is firm discontent with the STV (single transferable vote) system among Dunedin residents and disgust at the response time for results.

The STV system, whereby voters rank candidates in order of preference, replaced the traditional FPP (first past the post) system in which majority rules, in last year’s election.

Voters were mailed voting papers and had a three week window to send responses to the Dunedin City Council which in turn were sent to a Wellington-based contractor for collation.

But the unexpected collapse of the electronic systems collating the votes led to a four week delay in the announcement of results.

This delay was a major grievance to the Dunedin residents polled in the study with most declaring the wait “unacceptable”. Many of those polled were dissatisfied with postal voting, in particular, the lengthy time period given to voters to submit responses (three weeks) and confusion over the closing date for votes. While some felt postal voting could be improved by having more publicity around the closing time and a set day or week for voting, many more preferred ‘voting in the old way – in a polling booth.’

Another issue which emerged was the ranking system utilised by STV. Some felt they were forced to “rank people they knew nothing about” while others found the system “a lottery in which neither the candidate nor the voter benefited”.

“Essentially, voters found the election very difficult, due to the voting systems used and confusion created over candidates and voting papers. What needs to be addressed is the importance of voter rights over candidate rights,” says Professor Phil Harris, Head of the Department of Marketing and Otago Polling Research Centre researcher.

The results of the study will be presented to the Dunedin City Council and presented at an upcoming marketing conference in Leeds. The researchers hope to publish the data in the future.

The Otago Polling Research Centre is investigating setting up a forum for Dunedin residents to discuss topical issues concerning politics, elections, and community matters.

Copies of voter responses can be obtained on request (

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