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Compulsory and online voting among proposals

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Latest Political News | Monday October 14 2013 5:38

Compulsory and online voting among proposals

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UPDATED 9:48am: State funding of local election campaigns is being suggested as a way of boosting voter turnout.

Numerous options, including compulsory voting, have been floated after a dismal turnout at this weekend's local body elections.

There's a sympathetic ear from a senior Labour MP for Local Government New Zealand's suggestion of compulsory local body voting.

Labour MP Sua William Sio is critical of a vote in Auckland that's seen just two Polynesians elected to the council.

He says it doesn't properly represent the ethnic variety that is the Auckland region and he sees merits in the idea of compulsory voting.

"I don't think there's any one silver bullet in terms of saying compulsory voting is going to solve that.

"Although I've always been in favour, because hopefully that would raise the participation of areas where there is general disparities."

The MP supports compulsory voting, but says it's not party policy.

He says a genuine discussion is needed about the low turnout and suggests taxpayer funding of the process might be an answer.

"I know people don't like that but if we value democracy then we do need to consider there is a cost associated with the promotion of candidates and with ensuring people are open and transparent about what they stand for."

Compulsory voting not the answer

The Greens believe there are better ways of getting people to vote at local body elections than by forcing them to participate.

Party co-leader Metiria Turei doesn't think compulsion is the answer.

"It's a punitive approach and not the right way to go.

"There's talk about moving from postal ballot to a polling day, just like the general elections.

"And actually that might work better where it is an event on a particular day, so people know when election day is and they can participate."

Lack of interest blamed, not inconvenience

Lack of interest, rather than inconvenience is being blamed for poor voter turnout in the local body elections.

A number of ideas are being suggested to lift involvement, including electronic voting and compulsory voting.

But Auckland University Political Studies lecturer Joe Atkinson says the problem is getting people interested.

He says it's lack of a real competition that's the issue.

"When an election is close or there's a real race on, the number of forms returned increases significantly and the voting goes up.

"It's not inconvenience of forms that's making the differenced between high and low vote, it's actually interest in the election."

Online voting won't fix problem

Mr Atkinson says online voting won't fix the issue of a lack of interest.

"My impression is that when it's been tried overseas, it hasn't made a lot of difference.

"It has been tried, for example, in the United Kingdom, and there haven't been huge increases in turn outs."

He says the best way to get people interested is to run a referendum on an important issue at the same time.

However, Hamilton, Hastings and Whakatane ran referendums alongside their elections this year and, like most places, all saw a decrease in voter turn out.

Key doubts online voting will help

The Prime Minister doubts online voting will significantly improve turnout at local body elections.

A Government working group is looking at introducing online voting in 2016 and John Key says that might help up the numbers.

But he's pointing out that while central government issues are plastered all over the media day-after-day, local government just isn't like that.

"Most people can't name their MPs, so they really can't name their councillors.

"So I think a lot of it is just people feel a disconnect, and I'm not sure the voting system will change that."

Tremain says Govt won't fund elections

Cold water's being poured on a potentially controversial way to boost voter turnout at local body elections

Labour's Sua William Sio is suggesting they be state funded and that candidates get taxpayer support for their campaigns.

He believes it could increase voter participation and improve ethnic representation.

Local Government Minister Chris Tremain indicates it's not on the Government's "to do" list.

"There hasn't been an appetite from our government for state funding of local government elections, or national elections for that matter, outside of national television advertising."

Photo: Getty Images

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