Local elections: a modest proposal

The end of the 2019 local elections are on their way, with final votes due in by 12 October at midday - remember to post your vote by 6pm tonight!

There has been a lot of comment on falling turn out at local elections, with some comparisons showing turn out down by as much as 5% since the 2016 local elections. There’s plenty of speculation as to why this is, most of it directed at postal voting.

It has been known though for a long time that one determining factor for turnout is excitement and interest in the election, and whether candidates inspire voters to turn out. Especially with Mayoral elections, turn out is higher when there’s more interest in the contest. In other words, make the election more interesting and competitive, and more people will turn out to vote in it.

What does this ahve to do with a New Zealand head of state you ask? Well, should New Zealand adopt a directly elected head of state (something New Zealand Republic proposes as an option to be put to a referendum following a republic referendum), then it would make sense to hold elections for that position at the same time as local elections, every six years (every second local election).

There’s a number of reasons to do this:

  • it would reduce the cost of these elections by holding them at once;

  • it would emphasise that the role is non-executive and not involved in parliamentary politics;

  • it would set head of state elections deliberately in a different year to parliamentary elections;

And of course, it might just increase turn out. That remains true whether we stick with postal voting in local elections or go back to traditional polling-booth elections.