A million eligible voters chose not to vote in the last general election, resulting in the lowest voter turnout in 126 years. Will we see a record low turnout in the current local government elections? It's likely that up to two million eligible voters will reject the option of participating, which will raise further questions about the decline of democracy in New Zealand, especially at the local level. This poor regard for local elections is nicely satirised today by Ben Uffindell's blogpost on The Civilian: . He mocks the low status given to these elections, suggesting they are little more than pretend candidates chasing after pretend votes and serve no other purpose than giving voters a chance to practice prior to the real (general) election next year.
For an official view on the state of local body elections, you can see Local Government New Zealand's very informative article, . This has useful graphics and statistics showing the decline in voter participation in these elections. The upshot is that turnout is generally well below 50% in most elections, although there was a minor boost at the last local body elections taking it to 49% - probably related to some close contests and the novelty of the Auckland Supercity election. This time, we might expect - especially in Auckland - the rate to plummet.
So what's behind the death of local democracy? And who's to blame? Normally the voters - particularly those choosing to abstain - get the finger pointed at them by authorities, newspaper columnists and editorial writers. See, for example, the ODT's , the Timaru Herald's , the Listener's , and Mai Chen's . Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) - the body representing the various local authorities - is unsurprisingly trying to convince voters to participate - see Mike Reid's .
Dr Bryce Edwards is a politics lecturer at Otago University.