Hamilton City Council Chief Executive Richard Briggs is calling for major reform of local government elections, claiming the system is “demonstrably broken”.
Mr Briggs has been clear he wants much more community engagement in the Council’s business. In his independent pre-election report released in July, he highlighted community engagement as one of the five biggest challenges facing the city.
In response, the Council put more effort than ever into generating interest in the election, and encouraging people to vote. That included an extensive social media campaign, increasing ballot box locations and special voting capacity, hosting candidate profiles on a standalone website and hiring television journalist Mike McRoberts to host a mayoral debate attracting a 1000-strong audience.
Voter returns went up from 33.6% in 2016 to 39.43% this year – an increase of 6 percentage points and nearly 20% more voters (up from 33,555 to 40,497). It’s a different story to the downward voting trend seen throughout the country – but Mr Briggs remains far from satisfied.
“Firstly, I want to acknowledge the tremendous efforts put in by Hamilton candidates and groups right across the city to encourage people to take an interest and vote in the election. Without their efforts, I think the Hamilton turnout would have been far worse,” he says.
“But, while we’ve clawed our way back up the ladder instead of languishing at the bottom, is it good enough to have such a small portion of people in Hamilton vote? I just don’t think it is. It’s not acceptable, not for a city on a massive growth trajectory and with huge challenges in front of it.”
“The problem is nationwide – rural and urban. Across the board, voting numbers generally were really poor – that’s all there is to it.”
Mr Briggs is calling on the local government sector to “step up” and address the issue head on. And he also wants central government to take an active role in looking at what electoral changes might be needed and can be implemented before the next election in 2022.
“I don’t have a firm view on what needs to change; I’m not an expert in electoral processes. But we need to look at a wide range of issues including dates, the voting system itself, lack of engagement from young people and more,” he says.
“And as a sector, local government needs to start thinking about what we can and should be doing to collectively turn around this lack of interest in council business. It’s not healthy and it’s not constructive and I think we all deserve better.”