WCC Election: Heading for a terrible voter turnout

Barring a minor miracle, it looks like the voter turnout in Wellington is going to be the lowest in many, many years. Frankly, if we make a 35% return total, I would be surprised. While other years have seen a jump in the latter days of voting it is hard to see based on historic patterns this making a great deal of difference.

Why? Why is it that we can get so passionate about the Council when they are in place, but don’t have an interest in voting when it comes time to have a choice? I can only surmise there is a confluence of reasons that leads to this, and not being a political scientist, must rely on guesswork to understand why we are here.

First, the method of voting is archaic. Pen and paper rely on a lot of moving parts and jolts to a person to get completed. Voters must either be registered or confirm their registration, before receiving a pack with a booklet of candidates promising the earth.

From there, they must read all the candidate’s bio’s, score them in some way, then rank them on a form.

Most people have absolutely no idea who the current Councillors and Mayor are, let alone having to sift through dozens of unknown candidates by ward, mayoralty, health board, and regional council. It’s a significant hurdle to be sure.

If they do go looking for more information on candidates, then there is so much data now, in various formats, in the form of opinion and unscientific analysis, that it becomes even muddier. Particularly if you are not a single-issue voter, which most people are not.

Then there is the issue of accessibility. Or in this case, of finding a handy mailbox to post your results in. Some candidates have had to resort to posting maps of where they said post boxes could be found, as over the years they have become scarce.

Electronic voting would have helped, and the WCC did vote to try it this time around, but the howling anti-e-voting Luddite brigade managed to bring that crashing to the ground in a ball of flames some months ago with an orchestrated campaign of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Frankly, I think that would have gone a long way to increase voter numbers, especially amongst younger voters. But no, we can’t have nice things, and no, I do not want to hear from the Luddites, it’s a topic that I have extensively researched any while you are right in some cases, risk management would make it an easily implemented option.

When all the candidates are all promising the same things, it leads to great apathy. If all things are the same, then why bother voting? Of course, that is not the truth, but when you take a quick scan of that god-awful candidate pamphlet it can be seen that way.

Do we care about the Council? Increasingly the evidence suggests that not only do we not care, but we also do our best to avoid them unless necessary. My highest-ranking articles have been on Shelly Bay, where I have a somewhat loyal following from Mau Whenua and other locals and let’s not forget the silly idea of putting traffic lights on Cobham Drive.

My lowest ranking has been on issues of Climate Change, lack of WCC action, and rate increases.

I know that with other local information sites, rates increase opinion pieces are poorly read. We don’t care about it that much.

The Council has done little to increase the resident’s trust and confidence in the past few years and nowhere more than such has that been seen in and around public consultation. The perception is that the Council does not listen to locals and even if they do, it’s a faux, box-ticking exercises.

To that end, a lot of people who would have held some interest in the Council and its plans have turned off them. They have deliberately and quietly disengaging choosing to ignore the Council unless it appears on their doorstep.

And when it does appear on their doorstep, it’s often perceived that they are about to take something away from us. At which point, we become very engaged.

The Council are also perceived as not doing much. Promising a lot, but not delivering anything.

There is a real issue of whether the current Council construct is still relevant to Wellington and I suspect this is a debate that is happening in other cities. When two-thirds of your voting population doesn’t turn up to vote, you have a major issue of trust, confidence, and effectiveness.

Of course, to change that, you either must deconstruct the Council somehow or, you must get people to vote for change agents. It’s a wicked conundrum.

It’s something that is going to have to be looked at. Because the voting returns are likely to continue to fall over time.

I also suspect that voting returns are out of age balance. That younger people are not voting, whereas the older population continues to do so. That swings the Council to an older style of policy and management where we need fresh blood.

There is an argument that if you don’t vote, then you don’t get to complain. It is not one that I subscribe too. You need to make voting attractive to voters, particularly youth, and many people I know don’t want to vote for the current crop of candidates at all.

Exercising your right not to vote is perfectly reasonable, and we need to ask why more and more people are choosing to do that.

As I said, I could be wrong, we will see a little surge this week, but overall, it’s going to be a very poor turnout.

Fixing that issue is not the Council’s responsibility, at least it is not their responsibility to come up with solutions to the problem. They need to work with Local Government and Central Government to understand why it is occurring and seek answers from the residents on potential solutions.