Local Government Magazine

Local authority elections: When people don’t vote

When people don’t vote - LG Dec 2016

By Bill Conroy, local governmentite

So the public has spoken. The elderly have once again ruined the outcome of many local authority election results across New Zealand by choosing to vote. Who are these fringe people, the so-called Elder People who lurk in the twilight world of our society, only emerging to vote and distort the results of every election? The young people’s voice has not been heard once again. The same phenomenon caused the wrong outcome in the recent Brexit result in the UK. We must prevent elderly people from distorting ballot-box results.

Experts across the land are searching for new ways to encourage a greater community involvement in the local authority election process. It’s an exercise in abject futility. We must search for some other answer than the current voting process.

So what happened at this election? According to the pundits, less than 41 percent of eligible voters decided to vote in the recent local body elections – that is around two people in five returned their voting papers. Put another way, three out of five were too tired to do anything, couldn’t deal with the trauma and didn’t respond. The outcome simply continued the trend of disinterest that has grown over the years.

So, what can we do to generate some degree of engagement, interest and responsibility in so many apathetic people? The short answer is nothing.

Clearly the democracy model devised by the ancient Greeks is no longer suited to selecting local community leaders; the one man / one woman vote system is no longer suited to our way of life, and we must look to an effective alternative.

The solution is simple: relieve the voters of the debilitating task of voting at all. In a word: disenfranchise all voters and fill local body vacancies by appointment. This will allow the younger part of our population to concentrate more fully on the important issues of the day and to explore cyberspace by way of such things as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, selfies, Pokemon GO and so on.

Someone else can worry about governance issues (yawn), climate change and any other boring issues that impact on the survival of planet earth.

Anyway what would happen if we disenfranchise the voters? Not much really, because a new system could be put into place quickly. This is how I visualise an alternative Community Leader Selection Process (CLSP) working.

Revoke the Remorse Management Act and all legislation containing the words “local government reform” or “reorganisation”. All appellate courts, tribunals and review authorities where local body decisions can be overturned should be abolished.

Dismantle all existing units of local government. In their place create super-cities for all metropolitan areas over say 250,000 people; form regional councils based on current land districts throughout New Zealand, then hand over full governance responsibilities to the new bodies. In no case should the membership of such bodies be greater than six people.

The role, title and trappings of “mayor” and all the archaic claptrap associated with the post should be abolished. Instead, appoint a “governor” for each region.

The task of appointing people to the new units, for a five-year term, would be given to a revamped Local Government Commission headed up by “president for life” Winsome Peters MP.

An important plank in the new structure would be a new Local Government Act clearly setting out the responsibilities and duties of the new units of local government and stating unequivocally that central government must not interfere in the exercise of the delegation.

More importantly there must be legislative provision to the effect that no government may introduce local government reform or reorganisation for a period of 100 years from the date of enactment.

The foregoing is of necessity only a brief outline of the disenfranchisement option but it will give an indication of how the new system would work. Certainly it will provide a much more efficient method of finding and selecting effective community leaders than the outmoded and derided democracy model of voting for unknown candidates.

This article was first published in the December 2016 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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