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Local Elections 2022September 19, 2022

A first-time voter’s guide to voting for the first time


Care about the place where you live? Then vote in your local election – it’s easier than you think.

Think back to the general elections of 2020. Back then, people my age – I’m 21 now – couldn’t escape the news that an election was on its way. TV ads, social media campaigns, and our millennial aunts were all on our case, encouraging us to vote. Youth voter turnout went up by 18.8%, so we put our feet up and relaxed, knowing our civic duty was done.

Not so fast. In 2019, the last time New Zealand held local elections, only 42.2% percent of eligible voters cast their votes.

You may think it’s not that important who your local councillor or mayor is, but candidates are currently campaigning to represent your community. And do you really want that climate change denier next door to make that decision for you?

But where to start? I’ve navigated the confusion of first time local election voting, and I’m here to explain how I made an educated decision about who to vote for, so you can do the same.

Step 1: Understanding council roles

Mayor, ward councillor, and local board member. These are the roles that you’ll most likely be voting for. Depending on where you live you may also vote for a licensing trust representative – if that’s you, The Spinoff has a guide for that.

The mayor helps set the agenda for the council. Throughout their three-year term they make decisions for the city or district along with the ward councillors.

Ward councillors – usually just called “councillors” – are the representatives of their ward, or areas. Councillors make decisions for the city or district alongside the mayor with the perspective of their community in mind.

The local/community board makes decisions and plans for your local area according to direction from the council. If your community has a specific need, your board-elected member is usually your first call.

Now that we know the basics it’s time to be a little more introspective about what you need from your candidates.

Almost everyone has an opinion on their transport options, and how they could be improved. (Image: Archi Banal)

Step 2: Thinking about what you want from your council

I am 21 years old, a student, a tenant, and a part-time worker in Auckland Central. Originally from Northland, I only have a basic idea of how Auckland Council influences my life. I don’t pay rates; I honestly can’t say I even know what they are. The definition of “effective infrastructure development” is beyond me and the same goes for the “responsible economic pursuits” of a city. I can’t help but think, am I even qualified to make these decisions given my current tax bracket and lifestyle?

To tell you the truth, not all candidate rhetoric and policy is going to apply to young people like me, and we can’t expect to understand everything about our council by the time voting closes. But we do have one thing that we can use to guide our votes, and that is personal experience.

What are your needs as a resident, and are they being met?

Consult your grievances! Do the buses you want to take never show up? Do potholes around your neighbourhood threaten to burst your tyres? Does noisy construction wake you up at early hours of the morning leaving you tired for class? By taking your experiences within your community and using that as a frame to develop a list of needs, you can begin to understand what you want from your council, and with that, what you need to find in the candidates you are voting for…

Step 3: Researching the candidates

At first the thought of reading through the council’s “about me” section for 43 candidates was quite overwhelming, but as an initial step those profiles allowed me to weed out the “absolutely nots” from the “maybes”. From text laden with spelling mistakes to outright anti-abortion campaigning, the ways candidates described themselves and their policies allowed me to quickly grasp what I wasn’t looking for. Now I had a few candidates I wanted to research further. The Spinoff’s guide to doing just that – along with the incredibly useful Policy tool, which allows you to plug in your address and see the relevant candidates and their policies – helped me to get to know my front runners.

Although it was persuasive to hear some candidates pledge to make the ‘incompetent’ council stronger I did begin to wonder if these stances were actual policy or just publicity. The Auckland Council Pre-Election report gave me insight into the current activities of my council, and with that I was able to understand some of the promises candidates were touting. These reports lay out some of the key issues your city or district faces, and provide an indication of how much progress has been made. By linking this back to candidate policy, you can get a better idea of where they stand on the biggest issues in your city or district.

If in doubt don’t be afraid to ask for help. Typing “but how do I know if a candidate is genuine” into my search bar made me realise Google couldn’t give me all of the information I needed. So, I called the most diligent citizen I knew, a person who could explain Auckland Council to me in a way the internet couldn’t. My contact provided me with a more personal take on what my city needs, and gave me the last piece of advice I can offer; don’t ignore a gut feeling.

Finally, I know who I want to vote for!

Step 4: Casting your vote

Voting opened on 16 September, and if you haven’t already you can still enrol here, though you’ll need to cast a special vote. For me, a quick update of my residential address and the addition of my Realme profile meant I was officially registered to vote.

So, get enrolled, follow the steps, and you will be able to make an informed and fundamental decision for your future!

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