Local governments have a responsibility to represent the interests and desires of their constituents. That idea is written into the oath that elected representatives swear when taking their seats:

I, [full name of mayor, councillor or board member], declare that I will faithfully and impartially, and according to the best of my skill and judgment, execute and perform, in the best interests of [name of region, district, city, local or community board], the powers, authorities, and duties vested in or imposed upon me as a member of the [name of local authority] by virtue of the Local Government Act 2002, the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987, or any other Act.

For representative democracy to work, politicians must be willing to think beyond narrow parochial interests and act in the interests of the broader community. But unfortunately, elections don’t necessarily reward politicians that take this view.

The following chart from Local Government New Zealand illustrates a key challenge for democracy at the local government level. Voter turnout in local elections has steadily declined over the past two and a half decades. In 2013, only 40% of registered voters participated. This means that local body politicians have an incentive to respond to the needs and desires of a smaller and smaller share of the population:

LGNZ local government voter turnout chart

In a January press release on LGNZ’s plans to raise voter turnout, their president stated that change was urgently needed:

“Our goal is that, for the first time in nearly two decades, local government will be elected by a majority of New Zealanders,” said Mr Yule.

That’s a worthy mission. But another way of interpreting the data is that, for the last two decades, local governments have had extraordinarily weak democratic mandates. The people that are elected to councils generally aren’t voted in by a majority of citizens. In fact, most people chose not to vote for any of the candidates.

A weak democratic mandate is exacerbated by uneven rates of voting and civic participation. Last year, I took a look at the demographics of the people who submitted on Auckland Council’s Long Term Plan. I found that many groups were severely underrepresented among submitters, especially:

  • Maori, Pasifika and Asian people – underrepresented by 62%, 81%, and 73%, respectively
  • People aged under 25 – underrepresented by 70% or more.

Astonishingly, the picture gets worse when we look at who votes in local elections.

The following chart compares voter turnout rates in national and local elections by age category, using data sourced from the Electoral Commission and LGNZ. (Unfortunately, LGNZ hasn’t published any more recent data, but turnout has undoubtedly fallen further since 2001.)

Older people – i.e. those over 50 – turn out at roughly the same rate in both local and national elections. Younger people generally vote at lower rates than older ones in national elections. But participation among younger people – especially those under 30 – falls off much, much more severely in local elections.

National and local voter turnout chart

This chart shows two important things.

The first is that local governments do not represent the young, except occasionally by accident or in a mood of generosity. Why should they? Young people might be the future, but they don’t turn out to vote. In that context, local governments will generally be captured by the interests of older residents. (Many of whom vote primarily to preserve their property values against nuisances like affordable housing.)

If you believe in democracy, as I do, this seems like a serious problem. It’s important that people are heard at election time, and afterwards.

The second is that there are high barriers to youth participation in local government elections. How else do you explain the wildly divergent participation rates at national and local government elections?

The LGNZ paper I referred to earlier has a more comprehensive run-down of various potential causes of falling voter turnout, but it’s worth mentioning a few possible hypotheses that might disproportionately affect the young:

  • Local government elections are exclusively conducted by postal ballots, which poses a barrier for renters. As young people are much more likely to rent, and renters are more likely to move frequently, the ballots are more likely to be posted to the wrong address. Consequently, there may be a case to set up a few voting booths in places where they can be accessed by young people.
  • It’s difficult to get good information about candidates. As political party affiliation is less common (and less relevant for policy anyway) at a council level, it’s harder to assess where candidates stand on the issues. The media tends to focus on high-profile races like mayoral elections, while paying less attention to councillors and local board candidates. This barrier may be higher for younger people, who won’t have had as many opportunities to get to know candidates in person or by reputation.

I also want to raise one dark possibility that LGNZ does not mention: that youth participation in local democracy is low because it is neither welcomed nor encouraged. In other words, young people may not be heard respectfully at town hall meetings or in residents associations, leading them to get turned off from engaging.

Back in February, Bernard Hickey reported on what happened when youth representatives spoke at a Council meeting on potential changes to the city’s Unitary Plan, which was then being reviewed by an Independent Hearings Panel:

I watched this democratic deficit exposed most cruelly when the Council’s Youth Advisory Chair, Flora Apulu, spoke to the Council about how she felt the weight of the city’s half a million young people on her shoulders as she argued for the affordable housing they desperately needed from this “up-zoned” plan.

She was jeered and heckled by the dozens of elderly and predominantly Pakeha homeowners sitting just metres behind her.

Sudhvir Singh from Generation Zero was jeered even more loudly when he said the generation of home-owners sitting behind him were “pulling up the ladder” of home ownership on the young of today.

“Poor you”, was the response. Indeed. Poor us.

Ms Apulu and Mr Singh seem like they can stand up to a bit of heckling without being intimidated into silence, but the same can’t be said for everyone. If a similarly dismissive atmosphere prevails at other meetings, should we be surprised when few young people take an interest in local elections? As this chart from LGNZ shows, low youth voting rates coincide with a dearth of young candidates:

LGNZ age of candidates chart

To sum up, local governments seem to face challenges for democratic legitimacy. Voter turnout is anemic, and it’s unusually low among the young. This weakens councils’ democratic mandates and weakens their ability to understand and respond appropriately to their constituents’ needs and desires.

So what can be done to save local democracy?

The most important thing that people can do is to get out and vote in the 2016 local government elections. Voting is especially important if you’re young – council decisions will affect whether you can afford to rent or buy a home in the place you’d like to live.

Here are the key dates to keep an eye on. Unfortunately, the enrollment deadline closed last Friday, but if you didn’t enroll in time there’s still an opportunity to request and cast a special ballot.

Local government election dates 2016

But it’s not a matter for individuals. Governments need to lower the barriers that people face to voting in local elections and participating in consultation processes. The low rate of youth participation is not a trivial issue – in some respects, it sits at the heart of Auckland’s housing affordability challenge.

Young people bear the costs of policies that restrict housing supply in areas that are accessible to jobs and amenities. Empowering them in local body politics would create a constituency for change – not one that would sweep aside all other views, but one that would at least have a seat at the table.

What do you think could be improved in local elections?

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  1. On-line voting, teaching voting at school and reducing voting age to 16, single transferable voting, candidates being elected for setting out their views, rather than relying on character and connections.

    1. That isn’t going to help the participation rate. The graph of participation by age shows older people are more likely to vote. So if you want to increase the overall rate you would increase the voting age to 30 or 40 years old. Sixty would give an even better result.

        1. I was just trying out your method from the other week of defining the argument and showing the policy wasn’t consistent with the goal I had defined for everybody. It is quite a good technique really.

        2. oh how silly of me! I feel so stupid for suggesting that the effectiveness of policies should be measured against their stated goals.

  2. Democracy is not in the hands of elected officials. It’s in the hands of all of society. Everyone has the right to be heard, and it is the job of elected officials to listen to those voices. Those who not speak out, cannot expect elected officials to act on their behalf. That is not a failing of the elected officials. It’s a failing of those who do not speak out. They have chosen not to exercise democracy.

    1. oh perlease. This post is asking “how” we might encourage young people to vote. Do you want that or not?

      I personally think it would be good for society if more people voted. and I’m prepared to listen to ideas on how we might achieve that outcome.

      On-line voting and reducing voting age to 16 sound like good places to start to me.

      1. “Do you want that or not?” I want people who care to vote. I certainly don’t see the point in spending public money encouraging people who don’t care to cast a vote. Some people choose not to vote and that is a valid choice they are free to make. They are saying that they are happy for the rest of us to decide for them. Maybe they think we are better at it than they are.

        1. What does it matter if I pay rates as part of my rent or if I pay directly? I still pay, I still should get a voice.

        2. I put my comment suggesting only ratepayers be voters in the wrong bit and redid lower down. Sorry Jacob I didn’t realise you had responded. When a Council takes out a loan renters have no obligation to repay that debt but owners do. When I buy groceries at the supermarket I dont get to cast a vote for the board of directors- only the owners can.

    2. Actually no Geoff, it is the job of elected officials to represent everyone in their electorate, read the oath above. There is nothing about ignoring citizens who didn’t or can’t vote. That would be patently ridiculous, not least because it would me zero representation for anyone under 18 for a start.

    3. But democracy is in the hands of the elected officials, because they’re the ones who get to make the important decisions on a daily basis. They have a responsibility to govern on behalf of the whole community, as is clear from the oath that the top-poster quoted.

      If certain demographics vote less, that’s unfortunate, and it does create problems for democracy in practice, but it does *not* relieve the elected officials of their responsibilty to govern on behalf of the whole community.

    1. Trev I agree with online voting in theory but like others worry about the security around it, not that postal votes are overly secure as anyone could just take ballot papers out of your letterbox. With online voting would everyone be required to have a ‘realme’ (something that everyone who works for or as applied for a government job would already have) profile, something similar or the ‘unique code’ that is used for competition entries.

  3. One simple strategy would be to hold general and local elections at the same time, using the same polling places. (This is done in the USA, making it one of the few features of American electoral politics worth copying.) Participation rates would then be equal for both types of elections, and national and local politicians would have the same democratic mandate.as each other.

      1. The effect would be that the focus would be on the national tier, and there would be less focus on the local tier. Higher turnout, but probably less informed turnout. Would possibly result in candidates standing under party labels, which the big parties don’t like as don’t want to have Labour/National councils making decisions that might hurt their national brand (e.g. a big rates rise). (But clearly identification of candidates views (rather than the garbage in the candidate statements) would be the biggest help for voters.)

      2. Local body politics, Ward boundaries, local board boundaries, multiple candidates,different systems eg FPP etc are confusing enough, without packing in national elections as well. Prefer these be kept well separate.

  4. Remove health board voting from local body voting pack. It makes the voting pack intimidatingly large and very slow to work through. Compared to local council and its services that we use everyday, most of us aren’t experienced enough in dealing with the health board services so aren’t informed or engaged enough to make sensible voting decisions on the health board candidates.

    1. How about the AT Board then? Is there a good reason that the AT Board couldn’t be democratized, so that each local board could have a member of the AT Board instead of the current situation where AT board members are unelected?

  5. Why is that only the left leaning folks want voting to be reduced to 16? When i was 16 i didnt even know what politics is, most of my friends kids of the same age dont know any better either

    Online voting – yes, allowing kids to vote – no

    1. There are also a lot of poorly-informed adults. Turning 18 doesn’t magically make you capable of understanding policy.

      We lowered the voting age from 20 to 18 in 1974. Since then, educational standards have generally risen and early-childhood health has improved, which means that young people are now probably more capable than they were 40 years ago.

      1. Also 16 and 17-year-olds are not kids – they are old enough to get married and to become parents. They have more of the future ahead of them and do not deserve to be excluded from decision-making that affects them.

    2. IS the fact that you were ignorant when you were 16 good reason to stop informed 16 year olds from voting? And as Peter notes, level of information is not a pre-requisite for voting, so that’s a poor argument.

      The fact you describe them as kids really just shows you in a bad light. Those “kids” can leave school, pay taxes, have sex etc.

    3. I think as a society we treat 16 and 17 year olds as kids too much, when really they are young adults if we let them be. That some of them will have no interest in politics doesn’t mean others shouldn’t be allowed to vote, there are many adults that have no interest or understanding of politics as well.

  6. Peter, you mention in bold that there are high barriers to entry for youth paticipation as if this is a real thing and then provide no reasoning for it at all. You mention a couple of things that may not be good with the way that youths are treated but these are not barriers.

    Laziness could well be part of it, being a renter is certainly not.

    1. Read the post again; I identified three potential mechanisms that may suppress the youth vote. On renting, the key issue is that renters tend to move more frequently and hence may not receive their paper ballot when it’s mailed to them.

      1. Peter that goes back to the last line in Ellie’s comment, ‘laziness’ there is plenty of warning and chances to check and update your details prior to an election, like the election guy at the local supermarket encouraging people to check their details.

        1. Look at the second chart. Young people vote at much higher rates in central government elections than they do in local elections. So it can’t simply be laziness on young people’s part – if so, why aren’t they equally lazy in central government elections?

        2. Fair call Peter, local elections are a long strung out process and I have to admit I had mine ready to send but forgot about ut until it was too late last time round.

        3. Peter……Because young people particularly students perceive that central government is responsible for things that directly concern them – student loans, remission of student loans, endless discussions at school about the environment, ethnic matters, humanitarian concerns. Until recently transport concerns and livable cities were only of minor importance. Explore the big world first etc
          And local body politics was dull by comparison – water supply, drains, asphalt paving, traffic. park maintenance, etc

        4. Well actually if you don’t watch broadcast TV, which many younger people simply don’t do anymore, the only notification you get is a letter posted to your old address.

          Given the ‘rent trap’ younger folk are stuck in there are few that get to live in the same house for three years.

          I’d bet a simple email would suffice, younger folk these days are much more likely to keep the same email address as they are to receive mail in the same place.

        5. “Well actually if you don’t watch broadcast TV, which many younger people simply don’t do anymore, the only notification you get is a letter posted to your old address.”
          I only checked my details after the roll closed, because Transport Blog has been posting about the local body elections, and I follow a few local body politicians on twitter. I certainly didn’t see any reminders anywhere to check my details. Luckily I moved before the general elections, so my details were up to date.

      2. Things that may act to suppress the yourh vote are different to barriers. If people want to vote there is nothing stopping them. The fact there are a lot of old fogies booing them should make them want to vote more.

        Notwithstanding that there is a good chance that most of the people booing may simply not have like what they were saying, which is perfectly democratic. For the most part i dont agree with most of what Generation Zero says and their methods and i would consider myself their prime target audience, i would be booing them too, doesnt mean i think they shouldnt be able to vote.

        1. “most of the people booing may simply not have like what they were saying, which is perfectly democratic”

          On the contrary, it is disrespectful, intimidating and boorish. If I were chairing the meeting I would have outlined the ground rules (ie. let the speaker speak without interuption) and had subsequent transgressors ejected.

        2. Booing in public is a sign of poor breeding. Even if you disagree violently with someone, you let them talk – while you are silent.

          Perhaps we should demand a bare minimum of etiquette before allowing someone to vote.

    2. Renting certainly is a barrier, my family has moved exactly once per year for the last three years as our rentals are sold or put on the market vacant. In the professional office I work in every single person who rents has moved at least once in the past two years.

      At each rental house I have received voting papers for previous tenants, meaning they have not updated their details. This time our household registered to vote but within the last 2 weeks we have been given 21 days notice that our fixed term rental will not be renewed. This means despite registering to vote we will be moving before the voting papers actually arrive.

  7. More publicity is needed about places you can go to drop off your voting papers. Libraries, Council offices etc. Post boxes are vanishing at an increasing rate, and with the increase in on-line payments lots of people rarely use the postal system. Agree with the problem of renter moving. I went to a block of flats near my house a couple of elections ago and there were stacks of ballot papers just left on top of the letter boxes because people had moved. An unscrupulous person could have voted multiple times with all the papers just lying around. I am really pleased to see Gen Zero encouraging younger people to get involved and having young candidates like Richard Hills should help.

  8. I suspect the imminent demise of letter post might bring this to a head sooner than we think, we’ll either have to make to big leap online, or go back to having polling booths.

    1. I like the idea of compulsory voting, but with the first option being “don’t know/no vote” and the second option being “no confidence”.

      That way people are required to cast a vote, but not necessarily to vote for someone if they don’t want to or aren’t engaged. That gets participation up without the downsides of people just ticking the first name on the list etc.

    2. Will that increase participation or engagement?

      I think the issue is that some segments of society aren’t engaged in the process and therefore get a less than ideal outcome from the democratic process. I doubt making voting compulsory will assist with that.

      1. It would increase participation naturally, non-participation would be illegal!

        Whether or not in increases engagement is the key question. I would suggest yes, if people are forced to vote regardless then you would hope more people would make some attempt to find out who would represent them best. If that amounts to taking 30 seconds to scan a few of the self-written blurbs in the voters guide at the polling booth, well that is at least slightly more informed and more democratic than never reading it and not voting at all.

        1. I’ve looked at the issue as people aren’t engaged, so aren’t bothering, so participation rate is a proxy measure for the level of engagement.

          My argument against compulsory voting is that it doesn’t do much to resolve the underlying issues of lack of confidence in politicians and overall dis-engagement with the political process.

          It’s like the adoption curve for CRL acceptance, the first 10% just get it, but until you get to 20% acceptance, you haven’t moved from early adopter to early majority (apologies to Simon Sinek for mangling his quote), let alone getting through to laggards (John Roughan) and the project is unlikely to get enough traction to get over the line. Until the issues dealt with by Local Government become dinner table conversation for the early majority and more people engage in the political process, participation and outcomes will be less than ideal for some sections of society.

  9. How to solve youth lower voting rate:

    1. Online Voting. I think what this article failed to mention is that postal voting favours the older generation. Younger generation, and those even younger will have small interaction with physical mail in todays world. Everything is done online in the current generation. If you want to attract younger generation, provide voting system that attracts them and not one old system that just attract the older generation.

    2. Reach Out. There is this stigma within the younger people that politics does not affect them. This perception needs to change. This occurs not just today, but have been throughout history. It has become the norm, and it needs to be broken.

    3. Opportunity. The answer to why there are less women in the workforce, has the same answer as to why there are less youth representation in politics. The answer is the ‘perceived’ minority has less opportunities. Youth needs to be given the more opportunities to represent in politics. Rules and regulations currently favours the older generation into being represented.

  10. Semi-related question, is there any site that allows me to compare candidates and their stances? I find getting information on candidates really difficult, I don’t want to wade through three brochures and a website for each, and still not to be able to draw a comparison because they only publish what they want to say…

    1. I think you have it there, I don’t know when the last time I read the local (or national) paper was. I haven’t watched broadcast TV in a long time, and that would only inform me of some of the mayoral candidates. Short of the info on this site I am hopelessly uninformed on the local politics, and I am not really sure on where I could go to actually get comprehensive information. That is with out having to trawl through months of very similar campaign articles, to get an actual indication of what the candidates offer outside of their carefully curated blurbs.

  11. For me, I have voted at every national election since I turned 18 but I never really thought about local government things until recently (last few years) because I didn’t appreciate its purpose. This could be for a few reasons:
    1. Age. As you get older your perspective of the world, and what’s important changes.
    2. I became a homeowner so now I care what is happening in my suburb and the surrounding area.
    3. Availability of information, like this blog or my local council’s FB page where they share a lot from events through to proposed redevelopments etc.

    How do you improve turnout in the lower age brackets? I think education. And then hope the importance of what it can impact registers. I’m not sure how you can improve candidate quality.

  12. Surely the best way forward is to restrict local government voting rights to property owners only. Local government is funded by rates on our properties. Why should anyone else get a say in how that money is spent?

    1. > I put my comment suggesting only ratepayers be voters in the wrong bit and redid lower down. Sorry Jacob I didn’t realise you had responded. When a Council takes out a loan renters have no obligation to repay that debt but owners do. When I buy groceries at the supermarket I dont get to cast a vote for the board of directors- only the owners can.

      Sorry, but equating a private enterprise (the supermarket) to a democratic institution to represent the people is farcical.
      If a council takes out a loan, owners will pay back the loan. Those owners are also landlords and will pass that cost on to the renters.
      Understand that just because someone rents, they are still paying rates, and by your logic they should therefore get a say in their elected representatives.

      1. When a Council overspends like Kaipara did it is the property owners who take the hit. They cant simply increase rates because people can choose rent somewhere else. Owners are stuck with the loss and if they dont pay the Council can take their property. Renters have no such long term commitment to an area. Owners can take the land elsewhere. Your contention that rates are simply passed through isnt true either. The price of rent is set by the intersection of the supply and demand curves. Demand is not fixed so there must always be a deadweight loss to the owner of rate increases.
        Finally if renters benefit in part from Council decisions then the same pass through argument applies to to the benefits that accrue to renters. Rational landlords will vote to improve the benefits their tenants get and act as agents for their tenants. The conclusion is only landlords should get to vote. I bet the participation rate would look better as well.

        1. You’re confused and have words in wrong places, but I won’t nit-pick more than this sentence already does.

          The Kaipara example.
          Yes owners are stuck with the increase.
          Landlords are also owners and got the increase too.
          Yes landlords will lose current tenants if those tenants either haven’t set down roots or can’t afford the increase.
          Landlord gets the cost for any time property is not tenanted. This is the risk of being a landlord. Some landlords may charge slightly more per week to cover this period.
          If tenant moves to a different region where they don’t have the increase, good on them, they can vote in that region.

          Does this affect the democratic rights of tenants in any way? No.

          Landlords are not always rational. Often guided by self-interest. Like everyone. The landlord’s wishes may not reflect their tenants. Your suggestion is that we are all equal, but some are more equal than others. The only logical method to deciding who gets to vote is one vote per person.

        2. “Your contention that rates are simply passed through isnt true either. The price of rent is set by the intersection of the supply and demand curves.”

          Rates are part of the cost to supply rental property. In other words, the supply curve should reflect them. The only way your argument makes sense is if you assume that landlords are idiots that fail to set prices to appropriately cover their costs.

          And if landlords really *are* that stupid, then I don’t see the upside in giving them exclusive control of local government finances.

          Also, you ignore the fact that councils don’t just levy rates – they also regulate housing supply and local environmental quality. If they do that inefficiently, it will impose costs mostly on young people/future generations, who don’t generally own homes yet. Those costs can easily be larger than rates bills. For instance, the average rates bill in Auckland is around $2500. By comparison, according to MBIE’s tenancy bond data, average weekly rents in the city have risen by around $80 in real terms over the last decade, reflecting regulatory constraints on housing supply.

          The average rental household has, in other words, seen its housing costs rise by over $4000 over a decade. That’s equivalent to a 160% rates increase. Unbelievable!

        3. The only time a landlord can pass on 100% of rates rises is if the demand line is vertical. Perhaps it is in the very short run. Otherwise the landlord has to take it on the chin to some extent. Landlords experience rates as a direct cost so they will vote to optimise the surplus of benefits over costs Tenants don’t see rates as a direct cost, so they will vote to maximise benefits. I would be more than happy to change my views if we had a poll tax.

        4. Aren’t the rental prices affected by the market, so if the rate increase comes through during the tenancy, there is virtually no way to reprice the rental, in effect marking to market, so you’ll be wearing the increase in cost, in the short term.

        5. Oh, so now your argument is that the shape of supply and demand curves is the problem and the only way to fix it is to limit voting rights to property owners.

          How very 19th-century of you!

        6. Also funny that you’re not concerned about property owners voting to restrict housing supply and extract scarcity rents from their tenants and new entrants to the housing market.

        7. But there’s only a scarcity rent if your object of measurement is Auckland. If your object of measurement is New Zealand there is no scarcity rent. It’s like saying that dairies charge a scarcity rent (as their prices are higher than a supermarket given their likely proximity to the consumer).

        8. If you ask a child if they want a pony the answer will always be yes. If you ask a tenant if they want light rail the answer will be the same. Ask any owner if they want light rail and they will ask you how much it is going to cost them so they can figure out if the benefits are worth it. Democracy does fail because some people choose not to vote. But it is inefficient when those voting dont have to carry the costs of their vote.

        9. John, now you’re just wrapping up a reactionary argument in bad analysis and condescension.

          Your argument is that because tenants don’t necessarily bear the full cost of rates increases, they are not qualified to make decisions about public finances. But by the same token, landlords don’t bear the full costs of rate increases – they pass on a share to their tenants. Their ability to do so is enhanced when housing supply is constrained. So if tenants don’t deserve a vote, then neither do landlords.

        10. Peter the answer is don’t constrain land supply. I keep on reading here that Auckland has major geographical constraints to land supply. Yet anyone who goes beyond the isthmus knows that simply isn’t true. The only constraint to land is an artificial regulatory one. That issue belongs to central government as it is a human rights issue when people are prevented from having a home. I can absolutely assure you that the type of people who gave us those controls would never get in if only land owners got to vote in local government elections. Everyone needs to vote in central government elections as they do almost everything for us. But local government should be about a few mundane things like rubbish collection, sports fields and street cleaning and that type of thing. These are almost all about maintaining or improving enjoyment of land. Tenants hire that amenity as a done deal. Owners have risked capital on that amenity. We shouldn’t be electing local people to make radical changes, we should be electing them to a boring corporate governance role. All the big stuff should be decided by real government where costs and opportunities can be balanced. Planning is better overseen by independent boards and an Environment Court. Every time we get activists wanting to make a difference at local government level they just cock it up. Maybe I am still just disappointed with their performance on the Unitary Plan, start to finish but honestly watching them debate it I decided we should really have a law requiring them to all have red noses,bright bushy wigs and clown horns. Ideally local government would be reduced to the few things they are competent to do and the Councillors job would be to make sure they don’t over spend.

        11. Good god, none of what you’ve written makes any sense.

          “Peter the answer is don’t constrain land supply… I can absolutely assure you that the type of people who gave us those controls would never get in if only land owners got to vote in local government elections.”

          The major constraint on greenfield land is infrastructure supply. And guess what: building more roads and pipes means raising rates. Given your points above, I can’t see why you’d expect property owners to vote for higher rates. A more likely outcome is that they would vote to restrict infrastructure supply and hence land supply.

          “Tenants hire that amenity as a done deal. Owners have risked capital on that amenity.”

          Please, tell me more about what a sweet deal it is to be renting in Auckland. And while you’re at it, kindly elaborate on how painful it is to own property in a rising market.

          “Planning is better overseen by independent boards and an Environment Court.”

          Last week, you were complaining about how independent hearings processes are an abrogation of democratic rights. This week, you’re arguing for disenfranchising over half of Aucklanders in local body elections, and putting planning into the hands of unelected technocrats. Your positions lack consistency.

        12. If it doesn’t make sense write it off as a stomach flu rant. I am trying to say we are better served by allowing people a direct input into a good process where they can submit on a clear plan. That didnt occur, the plan only became clear once the Council staff showed their hand on out of scope changes and the public input was by way of direct appeal to the Council.
          As well as proper input from the public we are better served having independent trained people make planning decisions based on evidence, we had that as well but the Council got to reject their advice and dismiss it as ‘unpicking our position’.
          I am still not feeling well or thinking clearly but I do believe this is the worst Council I have ever seen and to be quite clear that includes both Waitakere City and the Auckland Regional Council, neither of whom set the bar very high. My current thinking is we would probably be better off reducing our Council to the bare minimum function and have everything else overseen by central government. At least we get some competent people in our Parliament.

        13. So renters would be living in a town where we aren’t allowed to vote to decide on things like parking fines, tolls, dog catching, parks and bylaws. This will seem an unattractive place to rent. How low will landlords have to drop the rent to attract tenants to that town? Is there even a floor level to how low property prices could fall in such a town?

    2. Your argument is like saying GST is paid by businesses not consumers just because renters don’t pay rates doesn’t mean they don’t pay higher rent so the property owner can cover their costs

    3. mfwic, it is not only land owners that pay rates, they are the only ones that pay directly but indirectly everyone that pays rent also pays rates.
      The taxation argument is a little different as there are plenty on people that pay little or no net tax and that is not only those that avoid taxes through trusts etc but those that receive more subsidies or benefits than they pay in tax. Like Nick has just said that he’d be happy to forgo his vote to skip paying taxes, there are already people that effectively don’t pay tax already but still want to have their vote often to protect their way of life.

  13. Disagree with this article the obvious solution is to make me Empress of an independent Auckland I swear to be a benevolent dictator.

    The Greater Auckland Empire

  14. The issue is the information regarding to local candidates are not easy to follow and understand.

    The election booklet only provides short self-written biography about the candidate. Looking at those it is very confusing to know which one to vote.

    The best way for young is there should be a website, or app, that summarises the candidate difference into a simple chart. Information would include policy comparison, experiences, previous achievement etc.

    Once people has those information, they would be able to make a confidient decision.

    1. YES YES YES!

      People need to know what they stand for. Not how many kids they have and which charities they are involved in. Who cares!

  15. Just had a discussion with a class of 17/18 year olds. Main reason for not voting in local government elections was a lack of real information about candidates. Most get their news via social media, in particular Facebook and Instagram.

    1. I think this would apply for many in their 20s and 30s as well. What it really needs is a youth focused candidate who sees an untapped voter pool and can get their message out through modern channels.

  16. Everyone seems to assume the system is ok, and solutions are education or information etc. But maybe the problem is that the premise of the system – place and property-based representation – is part of the problem? Maybe young people don’t identify with place, either because they move a lot, or plan to, or they have more important identities?

    Given the purpose of local govt is to cater for present and future generations, we should build that into the system and elect by age-based ‘wards’ – 15-30, 30-45, 45-60 and 60+……and skew the number of representatives to the young. It wouldn’t be any more inequitable to do that than when you get funny sized geographic wards.

    1. This is definitely a big part of it. Only a small proportion of people heavily identify with a particular geographic area. If you’re young, you may well have moved from Napier to Papatoetoe to Albany to Eden Terrace to Sydney over the course of a couple of local body terms. You’re much more likely to stay invested in national political issues than local ones in that case.

      Age-based wards are an interesting idea. We have Maori wards in some councils, after all. It would certainly help focus candidates and voters on the idea that young people and renters matter as well.

  17. >> Local government elections are exclusively conducted by postal ballots, which poses a barrier for renters.

    This is a big problem – not just for getting your voting papers but for sorting out your enrolment. As someone said upthread, if your enrolment letter goes to an old address, and you don’t watch much TV, it’s all too easy to miss the deadline for enrolling. I’d like to see electoral workers out and about before local elections as well as for general elections. Probably expensive, but the letter system clearly doesn’t work that well, so it would be worth it.

    Also, in-person voting and democracy sausages: http://democracysausage.org/

  18. Democracy can lead to demagogues.

    Rather than broadening the voting public, we need to reduce it. Younger people are often more highly educated so a minimum educational requirement (tested, not based on qualifications) would have the happy result of improving the average voter quality score.

    1. Ideas are not the sole gift of those who are educated, limiting the democratic participation of any part of society based on some arbitrary requirement such as education starts us down the path of prejudice that isn’t the sort of society I think that anyone wants to live in.

  19. And the main problem with local government is a lack of clear policies from the candidates

    I don’t want to hear about which libraries you want, which roads you will build (or railways), or that you will spend more on waste collection services

    I want to know what I get from that. They should be campaigning on “a maximum of 5km to libraries” or “improvement of 10% in satisfaction with libraries” or “5% reduction in average commute time” or “99.9% reliable waste collection services.”

    Ends, not means

  20. I’m running for my local board. I’m in the 35-39 bracket, which by your graph still puts me in the youth minority. I agree that there is a massive gap in information sharing. My question is HOW do you do this? I didn’t even know until about March this year, that a ‘normal’ person could even apply to run for a position. And I think that I’m fairly aware, so if that’s the case, how many other people are just completely unaware of how local board operates or relates to them. In my experience with LG I only voted in the last two elections, and even then I still didn’t know how to understand the information presented to me in the booklet sent to my house.
    1. Did I not vote before because I never received a booklet because I didn’t update my address because I didn’t know where / think about it?
    2. Did I not vote because too much information that I had no way of interpreting or unpacking?
    3. Did I not vote because I didn’t think it was relevant to me, as I’m ‘only a renter’?
    I asked a woman working at Juke Joint her thoughts on local election, on what her ideal future Auckland would look like, and would she vote for me. She said “I would, but I’m not sure if I can, my parents live in Wellington, so don’t I have to vote there?” I said “but you live in Auckland now though, so you can vote here”, and she replied, “well I’m only renting”, and I was able to assure her that although she wasn’t the home owner, she could still vote in her local area.
    She wasn’t stupid, but this is the level of ‘informed’ young people may be. This was the level of uninformed I have been!
    When I have stuck to my values on why I want to be on the board (dense housing, multi-modal transport options), to be a voice for young people and YIMBYS, I have been advised by seasoned campaigners to keep it quiet as the people who actually vote, won’t vote for me. I don’t want those people to vote for me (ok I do, I want everyone to vote for me #voteforjess go on), but what I mean is that I actually want the people who see me as capable of representing their voice, and comfortable knowing that I will work in their best interests to vote for me.
    BUT how do I reach them? Campaigning is hard, and time consuming (and I have a full time job and the usual things), It is not funded – I didn’t know idea it actually cost money to do it. So you have a system where the people running are under resourced and the channels of communication that limit reach to people already engaged. Auckland council have a great campaign for ‘love your Auckland’ it’s fantastic, but I get to see it when I’m getting emails back from people at council, conversations I’m sure that most 21 year olds aren’t having because working in mall retail you don’t spend a great amount of time emailing your contemporaries at council offices.
    I know this is right down in the detail rather than broad brush strokes, but this is where I am in the thick of it,so it’s really worthwhile to me being able to read your conversations.

    1. Hi Jessica

      First off, good on ya for standing for local board!

      Second, I think you’re right to highlight the complete lack of good information on the political process at the local government level, and the lack of knowledge about what candidates stand for. This is probably one of the major things holding back participation.

      If you’ve got any ideas on what could be done, please share them. And, better yet, if you get elected, please push them as a priority for your area.

      A guest post describing the barriers you’ve faced in actually figuring out how to stand for office could be really valuable if you’re interested in writing one…

        1. Thanks Stephen – really good to know this resource is out there. Would you have any interest in cross-posting any of it on Transportblog? A lot of people have commented that they lack information on who the candidates are, so this could help a bit.

      1. I’ll have a go at that actually. I was thinking that it would be really valuable as at this stage I can only see a benefit to some people having short tenures on LB, maybe only a few terms. If it was easy to pass on the information for the ongoing issues and to upskill people pretty quickly on ‘what to do’ then you would be able to have more engagement as more people would be able to give it a go as such.
        I understand that there is great value in capital knowledge in a role and area so I’m not suggesting that that is compromised, but the needs of the people in a community change as the inhabitants change so having new people that represent that seems like it would have great benefit. I’m imagining where I can say “I was on bla-bla local board 2016-2019” and that the person I’m talking to might likely say that they “were on one for [this] term”. It would make more people aware if this was something they thought they could participate in (never minding that it is already).

    2. You’re right. Lots of voters don’t understand the system. That’s why it should be taught at school and, to make that teaching more relevant, the voting age should come down, so most pupils get a chance to vote at least once whilst a school.
      You’re also right about cost. Even the $200 deposit puts some off. I don’t see why we shouldn’t have an electoral commission funded pre election on-line system to gather together the top 20 or 30 questions voters want answered, then put the candidates’ answers on a well-promoted, easy to comprehend website.

      1. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t have an electoral commission funded pre election on-line system to gather together the top 20 or 30 questions voters want answered, then put the candidates’ answers on a well-promoted, easy to comprehend website.”

        This is a pretty clever idea. I approve.

  21. I think it’s time we actually have political parties at the local level – it already happens overtly and covertly. Future Auckland is the National Party and Labour stands candidates as Labour in some areas and used to use City Vision in other areas. Is Phil Goff really an independent?

    1. I am more interested in ‘issues’ in local body matters. Party’s embrace a range of issues, not all of which you may agree with or wish to support. Some issues will have no particular relevance to your local area, Others may be absolutely fundamental to your locality.
      So let’s keep it free of Party dictates as far as possible.

      In our local North Shore area, I have today met Richard Hills and like to think as one interested in transport matters and the absurdity of NZTA’s AWHC proposals and ever more motor vehicles pouring out each end of the under harbour tunnel with nowhere much to go, that Richard understands the consequences of this terrible and grossly expensive proposal. He is firmly behind the more effective and much cheaper rail only tunnel favoured by this blog.

      So if you are in the North Shore Ward remember the name Richard Hills and give him your vote for Auckland Council. He is young, diligent and already with experience on the Kaipatiki Local Board. With Chris Darby these two will be a North Shore dream team.

      1. First, Richard Hills is Labour. And of course Ann Hartley was also a Labour MP for Northcote before Jonathan Coleman won. Parties have a really useful function in that they signal to voters the general direction of how the candidate will vote. All these so-call independents are un-accountable and the same for the pseudo-political parties.

        1. If you have an anathema to Labour and don’t want a bar of Richard Hills for that reason then that is your choice. Personally, I would choose to vote for him because I am assured that he would support, that the next Harbour crossing is rail only, rather than the present government’s position of road only,without even the confirmation of provision of any form of rail. As set out earlier in Transport Blog posts, the cost benefits to the taxpayer are enormous.

          I am normally of a very conservative political view and have in the past voted accordingly, but for Auckland, I believe a major reform of transport funding is well overdue and the present government have failed to identify this and act appropriately.

          With the right Council elected, Auckland’s political power will inevitably increase, to the extent that central government will be forced to change current unsuccessful road only policies. I want my local body politicians to concentrate on issues.

        2. I am not arguing with you on the merits of the candidates. And you seem to like Mr. Hills and that’s all very good. My point is the major political parties are already involved in local parties. Future Auckland is the National Party and the Labour has a number of different hats – Kaipatiki Voice in our ward. I think it would be better if the parties acknowledged that and then people could get a sense of the general position of the candidate.

      2. Slightly further north into the Albany ward, we get to choose between the ‘dream team’ of Graham Lowe and Lisa Whyte (Auckland Future), or the incumbent ‘dream team’ of Wayne Walker and John Watson (Penlink Forever)
        And in the general election I can vote for anybody but I’ll get Murray McCully as my MP.

      3. Never mind the local elections, what we really need is some way of removing the road-only blinkered idiots from NZTA. Why do we have to tolerate such fools and their crazy AWHC scheme?

  22. Turnout is really the job of candidates. LGNZ or central government can’t really bring this up as it would be partisan, but I will. A huge part of the reason for not voting is that there’s no-one to vote for! There’s a bunch of indistinguishable old farts saying nothing of substance. You don’t know what anyone stands for, or what they intend to actually do if they are elected. So it’s all about name recognition and nothing else.

    One big thing we can change is the “open mind” idea for deliberating. We deliberately discourage councillors from ever expressing an opinion on anything, because if they do they have to declare a conflict of interest and can’t participate in votes on council. Everyone knows it’s a farce, and it prevents any actual politics from happening.

    Another is for political parties to actually run candidates, along with having policy platforms for what they intend to do. Labour runs a bunch of people in wards it doesn’t expect to win, the Greens the odd person here and there, but most elected councillors are supposedly “independents”. The parties can’t whip them, and so the parties aren’t punished by the voters for the councillors’ bad decisions.

    I also endorse Chris R’s mention of democracy sausages.

    1. Yep, when you are faced with the choice between Lee and Ralston it’s a case of which dead rat looks the best to swallow. No surprise that many people choose to avoid that.

    2. Labour is standing seven candidates in Manurewa and we certainly expect to win. We have a Labour MP and a Local Board made up of National and Act. Complete farce.

  23. The problem with local governments, especially in the Auckland area, is that the media is just not interested in what is happening within the council chambers, and without that interest, there is nothing to get the voters interested. This is a pet subject of mine, because in my previous life I was a journalist (J8 grading) reporting extensively on local government happenings in the South Waikato region. We reported on EVERYTHING that happened in local government in our newspaper’s circulation area, one borough council, one county council and one community board. No editorialising, just reporting on the facts, but in that way our readers knew exactly what was happening and who the movers and shakers were. We also did the same for our local MPs but that is another story.
    Come election time and we devoted a lot of space to the views of the candidates, so the voters weren’t faced with a list of anonymous names (those that had no views usually got little space, and the election results reflected that). Come to Auckland, and other than news emanating from the Mayor’s office, news coverage has been virtually zero, and this in my opinion, has been reflected in the election turnout.
    An interesting sideline is that a well known media commentator and journalism tutor at the time, was a guest speaker at a community newspapers conference, and roundly criticised the senior journalists and editors for spending too much time on “trivial matters” such as local government coverage, when all the readers wanted was recipes and gossip. I guess his message must have sunk in looking at my local newspapers here in Auckland.

  24. Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit.

    (He who is silent, when he ought to have spoken and was able to, is taken to agree)

    It’s as simple as that.

    1. Lets change to internet voting only then. Everyone would still be technically able to vote, but I’m sure the demographics would change a bit.

      1. Internet voting is a bad idea. It removes the certainty of free votes. Like postal voting it’s open to corruption and stand over practices.

        It’s needs to be as simple and manual as possible

  25. But how can you make an informed decision at the ballot box if all you are faced with is a list of largely anonymous names.

    1. Well, for the incumbents, you judge them on their records. Personally I start with isn’t Dick Quax or Sharon stewart as my first criteria. However you may decide to like the existing people, if so, easy.

      Otherwise you do some research, you read their material, you look at their web sites. If all else fails, you trust your gut decision. If you get it wrong, you fix it in 3 years time.

      But whatever you do, just vote. it’s important. People have died for the right to do so.

  26. Let’s say that you are a lobbyist for improved PT. There are now greater concentrations of PT users around transport hubs than 3 years ago. Next set up online booths at selected hubs with signage “Are you enrolled?” “Check the roll” “Enroll here” etc. After processing electors give them lists of preferred candidates and text reminders nearer to post day. Fragmented campaigns are the curse of local body politics. Is this an opportunity for interest groups to step into this void? Would this activate the Youth Vote?

  27. If the media isn’t interested in what is happening, there is nothing to stop a councillor, or group of councillor getting together and publishing their own newsletters telling their constituents what is going on behind those closed doors. E.mail newsletters cost nothing, and for those not on line, and you would be surprised how many aren’t (the Havelock North water crisis highlighted that) what is to stop councillors getting theirs’ or the neighbours’ kids to do a letterbox drop. A sheet of A4 paper folded in half to give a four paged newsletter can be run off for only a few cents in most computers – do that once a month and suddenly people would start to take an interest in what is going on. At the moment I am faced with a sea of billboards, each displaying a sea of faces, none of whom mean a thing to me.

    1. Makes little difference. Last election we produced 2 gazettes(40k delivered), 5 flyers (50k delivered), 50 hoardings, website, Facebook, public meetings and door knocking. All for the lowest turnout to date. Need to change to a ballot box where we all vote on a single day.

    2. Lots of people do do this though, city vision has a website, a facebook, many of the current candidates have personal websites and publish newsletters regularly, check out Pippa Coom’s website, or google Vernon Tava, Waitemata crew really provide a great example of this. It’s really hard to reach people who aren’t looking for you though.

  28. As a society we have decided that 18 is the age you can sign a legal contract, buy alcohol, go to war, etc and I’m happy with that, therefore I oppose lowering the voting age beyond 18. Just because ‘young people’ are legally allowed to have sex at 16 is no reason to justify dropping the voting age to 16. Besides, what would happen if we dropped the legal age of consent to 14, as some have argued? Would we then drop the voting age to 14 because “if they’re old enough to decide to have sex, they’re old enough to decide on local government?”
    What I would like to see however is “Civics” (I’m using the US term, do we have our own?) added substantively to our school curriculum. High school students should learn more about how local (and national) government works and why voting (and participating a democracy) is so important. Yes, I appreciate the irony of teaching them something the majority of them can’t use until they leave school but the same could be said of accounting and many other subjects we teach them.
    (They should also learn about financial literacy, but that’s another subject)

  29. Producing information just at election time isn’t going to raise interest in local body politics. That interest has to be nurtured in the three years up to the elections. At the moment it is a matter of out of sight out of mind, “why should I bother at election time”.

    1. That’s what I think too. This is my first time having a go at this, but I really would have liked 3 years prep myself. It’s a very hard task even thinking about communicating such a big message in a few weeks.

  30. So is there any way to vote if you don’t have a postal address? I guess in a pinch I could use my work’s PO Box.. And who’s TB endorsing; I seriously don’t have time to think about it but trust that you guys are onto it?

    1. In order to vote in Auckland you need to reside in Auckland and have done so for a month. This can be anywhere – a house you or your family own or rent, someone’s couch, in a car, under a bridge, etc. It’s the same roll and same process as for voting in nationwide elections so if you’ve ever enrolled to vote you’ll just need to make sure your details are up to date – http://www.elections.org.nz/voters/enrol-check-or-update-now/how-update-your-enrolment-details – and if you’ve never enrolled to vote you should enrol immediately since it’s illegal not to be enrolled.

      You’ll need to give a postal address but it can be a different address to where you live. If you don’t mind me asking, though – where do you live that you don’t have a postal address?

      Generation Zero is doing scorecards for candidates (not released yet) and I am pretty confident that the editors of TransportBlog will probably agree with Gen Zero.

  31. Just a precautionary note to those planning publicity campaigns during the upcoming elections – don’t rely too much on electronic media to get the messages across, you would be surprised at just how many people don’t have internet access. In an organisation I belong to, out of 321 members, 56 don’t have internet access, or 17 percent. Expand that number to the overall electorate, and that is a hell of a lot of people who won’t be getting the message.

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