Online voting to fix low turnout - Mayoral candidates in Tāmaki Makaurau

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Auckland mayoral candidates want to see Auckland's postal voting system consigned to history / File

By Stephen Forbes, Local Democracy Reporter

The two frontrunners in Auckland's mayoral campaign are calling for an end to postal voting and the investigation of an online voting option in time for the local body elections in 2025 in a bid to address poor voter turnout.

Both Efeso Collins and Wayne Brown are also united in their call for a return to a dedicated voting day to encourage more people to take part.

Figures released by Vote Auckland showed the percentage of votes returned across Auckland (27 September) was sitting at 8.8 percent. But in the urban south Auckland areas of Māngere-Ōtāhuhu, Manurewa, Ōtara-Papatoetoe and Papakura, only 7.1 percent of returns had come in so far.

Collins said he would like to see the current postal voting system scrapped and he did not think it helped voter turnout in areas like south Auckland.

"You've always got a percentage of the population that is going to vote, who understand the issues of local government," he said.

"But people out there are busy and they have a lot of things on their plate and the local body elections are probably third or fourth on their list of priorities."

The Manukau ward councillor said for many people, remembering to post off their voting papers was way down the pecking order.

He would like to see the council look at online voting and a return to having a dedicated voting day, just like we had for general elections, he said.

"We need to make things more convenient for people," Collins said.

Collins said casting a special vote should also be more straightforward. During general elections voters can cast a vote at their nearest polling station as long as they have ID.

Special voting packs are available for the 2022 local body elections. But to receive the papers you have to contact the electoral office, or visit one of eight council service centres in the region.

Fellow mayoral candidate Wayne Brown said voter turnout was lower in 2022 across the country. But he said the return numbers in south Auckland were not a surprise considering the area had a younger population.

An Auckland Council report looking at the 2019 local body elections found turnout was lowest for 26-30-year-olds, with only 20 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot, compared to 61 percent of people in the 76-80-year-old age group.

Brown said having online voting would ultimately be a decision for the government to make, but it did have merit.

"There would have to be security assurances, but online voting could be a solution, as could moving to a dedicated polling day as we have in general elections," he said.

"Nowadays the papers come in the mail and people think they will get around to sending them, but they don't."

Auckland Council electoral officer Dale Ofsoske said it was hard to draw any firm conclusions at this stage on why numbers were down, but said the same trend was being seen across the country's main centres.

Only 35 percent of registered Auckland voters cast a ballot in 2019, something Ofsoske said he was keen to see change.

The council had been pushing for some time to have an online option for voting, despite the fact the current legislation did not allow it, he said.

"It wouldn't be a replacement for the existing system, but it would be another option and might rejuvenate the interest from younger voters."

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air