Tuesday, February 27, 2024

David Farrar: Non-resident ratepayers voting

Greg O'Connor has a bill to remove the vote from ratepayers who don't reside in the district they own property in. On balance I tend to support this, but there are good arguments either way.

Liam Hehir writes:

But in any event, that's not why we still have a ratepayer roll. It is instead justified on the basis of “no taxation without representation”. Whether landowners live in a district or not, they will be taxed there if they have land there because the taxation of land (through rates) is the primary source of income for local government.

The link between representation and taxation is an essential principle in a democratic society. It holds that those who contribute to the financial wellbeing of a community through taxation have a right to have a say in decisions about how those funds are used. It's a such an important bedrock principle that it is quite bizarre that, as a concept, it would rate not a single mention in the article.

But what about “one person, one vote?” Is there an issue there? Not really.

There is no such thing as the triennial “New Zealand local election.” New Zealand has 78 different local authorities and each of them is a discrete body politic. They hold their own elections in their own jurisdictions.

No person can vote more than once in any such election. The real question is who should participate in each election.

If that violates the principle of one person, one vote then we have real trouble.

Consider, for instance, that New Zealand citizens residing in the uk are permitted to vote in both New Zealand's general elections and the UK's general election. Parents with children attending two different schools can cast a vote in the school board elections of both.

Yet nobody seriously argues against these as violations of democracy, which raises the question of why the ratepayer roll system should be viewed differently. At the very least, these considerations illustrate that the issue is at least somewhat complex.

I have sympathy for the notion that ratepayers should get a vote even if they don't reside there, but against that is the argument it is those who live in an area and have to live with the decisions about roads, parks, libraries etc who who should vote only. You can argue either way win good faith.

It is important to note that the number of non-resident ratepayers on local electoral rolls is very small. According to data from DIA which LGNZ kindly shared with me, here is the data for 2022:
  • Residential electors 3,361,906
  • Ratepayer electors 7,164 or 0.21% of residential electors
  • Residential voters 1,324,599
  • Ratepayer voters 5,818 or 0.44% of residential voters
So it is unlikely in most cases that the removal of ratepayer electors would impact election results.

It does vary by TLA though. The proportion of ratepayer voters to residential voters is highest for:
  • Thames-Coromandel 8.8%
  • Mackenzie 5.2%
  • Kaipara 3.2%
I hope the bill passes first reading at least, as it would be good to have a select committee process to hear about the pros and cons of keeping ratepayer electors.

David Farrar runs Curia Market Research, a specialist opinion polling and research agency, and the popular Kiwiblog where this article was sourced. He previously worked in the Parliament for eight years, serving two National Party Prime Ministers and three Opposition Leaders.


LNF said...

Ratepayers fund the Councils. Non resident ratepayers are part of that funding
Yes residents have to live with the roading libraries etc but those people contributing to the funding should most definitely have a say as to who the elected people are

Anonymous said...

Why not have a bill that only ratepayers with Maori DNA can vote - tangata whenua being a primary sensitivity.