Local elections are nearly upon us. Shanti Mathias has a guide to everything you need to know about what local elections influence and how they work.
What’s all this then?
Across New Zealand, it’s time for the triennial tradition of voting for representatives on city, district and regional councils, as well as community boards. Candidates are coming out of the woodwork and campaigning for votes. Expect to hear a lot more about the different races in the months to come.
What local government election will I be voting in?
Actually, you’re probably voting in more than one election. There are 78 local government authorities in New Zealand: 12 city councils, 11 regional councils, 54 district councils and one Auckland council, which was created when eight councils merged to create the super city in 2010. The mayor of a city or area is elected by all the people within that area; elections are otherwise separated into location-based wards, with candidates standing to be the designated councillors for that area.
There are also Local Boards (Auckland) and Community Boards (everywhere else), which sit beneath councils and carry out decisions delegated to them by councils. Local boards support their local community, such as running events, executing strategic plans and listening to the concerns of local groups, rather than considering the needs of an entire council area, which is the job of councillors.
Some areas also have licensing trusts, which are community-owned businesses who can make decisions about where alcohol is available in their communities through the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act. If you live in one of these areas, you’ll be voting for community representatives on the licensing trusts. Energy trusts, which manage electricity distribution in some areas, work similarly; if you live in these areas, you’ll also be voting for energy trust representatives. Profits from both these kinds of businesses go back into the community.
These are the authorities which make decisions and control funding for swimming pools and libraries, roads and parking, public transport and public events, city planning and streetlights, playgrounds and waste removal, and lots more – basically a lot of the details that affect what services are available in your community and how they are managed. Previously, local government elections have also included electing representatives for your area’s DHB; due to the creation of Health New Zealand, which dissolved the DHB system, this is no longer the case.
That sounds important – should I vote?
You should definitely vote! Even though local governments make decisions about a lot of the infrastructure and utilities that you use in your day-to-day life, turnout is appallingly low – under 50% of eligible voters cast local election ballots at the last election in 2019.
Who gets to vote?
Any New Zealand citizen or permanent resident over the age of 18 is eligible to vote for the local bodies that represent the area where they live. If you live somewhere and pay rates on a property you own in another local area, you may be eligible to vote in both places. If you’re currently on the Māori electoral roll and your voting area has a Māori ward, then you’ll receive voting papers for the Māori ward.
To find out which elections you are eligible to vote in, type your address in here (note that this information is for the 2019 election, which means that DHB elections are still included, and some local ward boundaries will have changed; there will also be information on your local council website).
How do I cast my vote – do I have to go to a polling booth?
All local government elections are conducted through postal votes. If you’ve received enrolment papers in the mail in July, confirming that you still live at the address where you’re registered on the electoral roll, you should be good to go – your voting pack, including the form you fill out and a pamphlet with information about the candidates you’re voting for, will arrive in your letterbox in September. You must fill out the voting papers and send them in the post to arrive by midday Friday, October 8, for your vote to be counted. (They’ll come with an envelope – it’s all free!)
If you haven’t received enrolment papers in the post – perhaps you’ve moved in the last few years, or haven’t enrolled to vote before – you can check or update your details at vote.nz, or by calling 0800 367656, or by filling out and mailing an enrolment form. Do this by Friday, August 12 to cast a standard vote. If the deadline has passed, don’t despair – you can still exercise your democratic right by casting a special vote.
This seems like a system set up to advantage people who don’t live in precarious rental housing.
Who will I be voting for?
Nominations for candidates also close on August 12, so the full list isn’t available yet. However, many high-profile races, like the mayoralty of big cities, have had multiple candidates confirm that they’re running. When you receive your voting papers in the mail, you will get a pamphlet with every candidate’s name and a blurb about who they are to inform your decision.
One thing to note in this year’s local elections that is different from the past is that you won’t be voting for DHB representatives, as the DHB system has been folded into Health New Zealand and the Māori Health Authority.
Who should I vote for?
That’s up to you. However, if you want to know what candidates stand for, The Spinoff’s elections tool Policy.nz is coming back! Policy.nz will allow you to compare candidates’ positions on different issues to help you make your choice – the up-to-date 2022 version will be available from late August.
How are my votes calculated? Do my votes count?
It depends where you live! Local elections tally votes differently to the MMP system used in national elections. Different places use different systems: most elections are First Past the Post (FPP), which means that the candidates with the most votes will be your area’s representatives. Some elections in New Zealand – all listed here – use a Single Transferable Vote (STV) voting, which means that you rank candidates so your preferences impact the result even if your favourite candidate isn’t elected (explained comprehensively here). You can get more information about how voting in your area works at your local council’s website.
Is there a handy place where all this information is located?
Unfortunately, no. There’s some information on the vote.nz website about voting generally. The Local Government New Zealand website has information about the structure and role of local governments around New Zealand, including maps of council areas through the country. There are details about local elections specifically at votelocal.nz. There will also be information available on your council’s website.