Turnout down but still better than most

Waitaki District Council chief executive Alex Parmley. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

Waitaki’s voter turnout slumped to below 50% in this year’s local body elections — but the district is better off than most throughout New Zealand.

National figures revealed just 46.89% of eligible voters turned out for this election, down from 54.39% in 2019, although this year’s statistics placed Waitaki 12th of 46 councils nationally for voter turnout.

In neighbouring districts, Mackenzie came in fourth with 53.98% and Waimate was sixth with 49.96%.

Kaikoura topped the list with 61.82% voting while last-placed Bay of Plenty-Tauranga had a dismal 26.44% turnout. Queenstown›Lakes was the worst in the South with only a 37.63% turnout.

Waitaki District Council chief executive Alex Parmley said the district’s low turnout reflected on the national trend which was disappointing, but Waitaki was still at the ‘‘higher end’’ of the rankings.

Several reasons could have contributed to the low turnout, and with Covid, cost of living increases and other issues impacting people’s life, Mr Parmley said electing a council might not be seen as ‘‘high a priority’’ for people at present.

‘‘There is always a section of the community that is apathetic, and then we have seen an increase in cynicism in New Zealand, which some think is stoked by so called fake news and misinformation as well as more extreme views on social media.’’

Local government needed to continue to explain its role to the community, he said.

The electoral system could also be reviewed to see if improvements could help engagement and a higher turnout.

‘‘The world has changed and a huge part of our community engage online, so could we have a secure system of being able to vote online too?

‘‘We saw hundreds of people turn up to hand in their ballots on Saturday, which suggests for a portion of the population, making more of an event of voting day might work better. We need to make sure our voting system is both modern and engages all of our community in different ways.’’

It was Mr Parmley’s first time experiencing a New Zealand election, after joining the council from South Somerset, where he was also chief executive.

He was pleased to see a good range of candidates come forward for Waitaki but work was needed to achieve more representation for all areas of the district in future.

‘‘They also need a good representation of the diversity of their communities and whilst there is still work to do in this regard, we seem to have taken a step forward including having some younger voices on council.’’