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Endorsements are great for campaigning, but what do they mean after the elections? (Image: Tina Tiller)

Local Elections 2022September 13, 2022

Just the ticket: Why election candidates love to campaign with a team

people with party signs
Endorsements are great for campaigning, but what do they mean after the elections? (Image: Tina Tiller)

Local elections include plenty of truly independent candidates – but a lot fewer than you might expect. Shanti Mathias looks at how party endorsements and electoral tickets can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

“I like working in a team,” says Chrys Horn. The scientist is running as a candidate on the Environment Canterbury council, as part of The People’s Choice, a local ticket. Horn, along with 30 others, has joined the group, whose candidates are standing for the Environment Canterbury regional council, Christchurch City Council and community boards. 

Being part of The People’s Choice has advantages for candidates like Horn. She doesn’t have to organise her campaign on her own; she can share hoarding space and some campaigning resources. 

But tickets like The People’s Choice are also useful for voters. “One of the reasons people don’t vote is that it’s hard to tell what [candidates] stand for,” says Horn. Being part of a ticket gives voters a “signal of where their candidates stand”.

Local government expert Julienne Molineaux agrees. With multiple elections and candidates, many more than a central election, “[tickets] make the voting task easier,” she says. “If there are four candidates for my local board but I only know one of them – but I really trust that person – then I can vote for all their colleagues.” 

As with many aspects of local elections, the role of tickets and party endorsements are inconsistent through New Zealand, and the formal and financial arrangements can vary wildly. Outside of Wellington, Auckland, and Christchurch, almost every candidate stands as an independent or is unaffiliated. It’s not clear exactly why this is, says Molineaux, a senior lecturer at AUT. 

In Auckland and Christchurch it might be a function of size, she suggests; these councils are bigger, influence more people, and have a higher degree of visibility than councils in other regions. Wellington is a different case; the population area for Wellington City Council is similar to the Hutt, where candidates are almost always independents. “Perhaps that is just Wellington functioning as the centre of government,” Molineaux says. 

Endorsements and tickets can change how people vote in local elections (Photo: RNZ)

The role of local parties

Not all tickets are made equal. “They can be very ad hoc and short term, for a single purpose,” says Molineaux. “They don’t [necessarily] have the discipline of a party.” Without formal agreements, a relationship may fall apart after an election. Candidates on the same ticket may end up running against each other. A ticket can be nothing more than a loose agreement between people to write the same words in the “affiliation” section of their candidate nomination form and attend some of the same events. 

But tickets can also be much more formal arrangements. Groups like The People’s Choice in Christchurch, or Communities and Residents (C&R) and City Vision in Auckland are well-established and organised, Molineaux says, and they know what they’re doing when election season rolls around. “These groups have been around for decades, and have set protocols and processes for candidate selection and campaign running.”

While not officially affiliated, these groups have loose links to political parties. The People’s Choice is associated with Labour, City Vision with Labour and the Greens, and C&R with National. However membership of those political parties is not a prerequisite for joining the ticket. 

Candidates may highlight their endorsements on their hoardings (Photo: Supplied)

What an endorsement does for a candidate

In addition to tickets, which may run in multiple elections or just in one ward or local board area (the “Rodney First” ticket is an example of the latter in Auckland), political parties can also endorse candidates running for local councils – however only Labour and the Greens currently do this. Again, Molineaux says, the meaning of an endorsement can vary, and arrangements aren’t always transparent to voters. 

At a bare minimum, an endorsement is a party’s agreement not to run a competing candidate in that race. For example, Efeso Collins is running for Auckland mayor as an independent with a Labour endorsement; this means there are no other Labour candidates competing for the Auckland mayoralty, so the left-leaning vote isn’t split. 

An endorsement might also mean a political party mobilises its volunteers and local connections to support a candidate. The level of support can vary; some candidates run as “Green” or “Labour” (again, National doesn’t do formal local election endorsements), and use volunteer networks, while others receive an endorsement because they’re party members with party-aligned policy positions, but don’t receive any other help, support, or mandate on how to vote once elected. 

“I wanted a Green Party endorsement so I could be transparent about my views and values” says Tyla Harrison-Hunt, who is running for Christchurch City Council in the Riccarton ward. “[The Greens] help with information and local policy that members can use, but I’m not receiving other kinds of support.”

Rohan O’Neill-Stevens, a Nelson councillor running for re-election, says an endorsement isn’t necessarily guaranteed the second time around. He had to undertake an interview process before receiving an official endorsement from the Green Party. “The kaupapa is already there and something I’m on board with, so it makes sense to be aligned with the broader Green Party,” he told The Spinoff. 

There’s a good reason for political parties to have some involvement in local elections; the two government systems – central and local – have to work alongside each other to fund projects like roads or to legislate on housing. (That said, the contributions of local government don’t always stick in the mind – Jacinda Ardern had to apologise in 2019 after forgetting that Wellington mayor Justin Lester had been a Labour candidate.)

“People go from local to central government, but also from central to local government,” Molineaux says. “Getting involved with local government is in itself satisfying, but some people see it as a career – a training ground to raise your profile and practise campaigning, public speaking, fundraising, and working with others to advance policy.”

A plethora of examples of this phenomenon come to mind: current Auckland mayor Phil Goff was a Labour MP for many years; former National MP Nick Smith is currently running to be mayor of Nelson. Current Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick raised her profile with a tilt at the Auckland mayoralty in 2016 before campaigning for a Green Party seat. Tory Whanau told The Spinoff, meanwhile, that suggestions her Green-endorsed run for the Wellington mayoralty is designed as a stepping stone to a high list placing with the party are “completely untrue”.

Justin Lester – being Labour endorsed doesn’t guarantee the prime minister will remember (Photo: Justin Lester / Twitter)

Congratulations, you’ve won your election. Now what?

The real test comes after the election. Will those elected to councils as part of a group maintain that relationship and work together to advance policies? Will candidates with a party endorsement toe the party line? 

One of the advantages of voting for a ticket is that the candidate with policies you like will have people around them to support them once they’re elected, preventing “minority mayors”. Having the backing of others can help you act strategically, Molineaux says. A ticket elected to a local board, for instance, can have a majority to elect the chair, who has a high level of authority to set agendas and work with council.

But there can also be consequences for candidates who don’t stick to the terms of an endorsement. In Wellington in the current election, longstanding councillor Iona Pannett is running as an independent. Pannett previously had a Green Party endorsement, but her votes to protect character housing upset Green Party members in Wellington and beyond. Molineaux says that although candidates may run on a ticket or receive a party endorsement, they aren’t “whipped” to ensure their votes stay consistent.

“After the election, we’ve agreed we’ll work together – but that doesn’t mean we’ll vote together on every policy,” says Horn, of her People’s Choice ticket. But there are only four people running for Environment Canterbury; even if they all get elected they’ll have to work with other councillors with different priorities and opinions. “In local councils, you have to work together all the time, with everyone.”

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