Petition calls for poll over how Whangārei elects local government

Whangārei District Councillor Marie Olsen is speaking out against a recent council decision over how electors choose their local government politicians, backing a newly-launched petition

Whangārei councillor Marie Olsen is speaking out against a recent decision over how local government elections are run.
Photo: Northern Advocate/ Tania Whyte

A petition is challenging Whangārei District Council’s decision to change its electoral system.

In August, Whangārei District Council voted to switch from First Past the Post (FPP) to Single Transferrable Vote (STV) for the area’s local government elections in 2025 and 2028.

Councillor Marie Olsen challenged this, forcing an extraordinary council meeting in September in a push overturn the switch.

She wanted to return to FPP for the 2025 and 2028 elections, with a binding community poll on the voting system in 2025. Her attempt was defeated, with 53 percent voting against it.

A poll on the voting system would cost Whangārei ratepayers $180,000 plus GST.

Community lobby group Democracy Northland said the way the council made its decision was not okay.

The group has started a petition calling for a binding community poll on the voting system.

The petition needs five percent – or 3344 – of Whangārei’s eligible voters to sign its call for a binding poll on the matter, before 11 December.

Democracy Northland chairperson John Bain said choosing an electoral system was an important decision – that needed community input.

Democracy Northland chairperson John Bain outside Whangārei District Council's head office Te Iwitahi.

Democracy Northland chairperson John Bain.
Photo: Susan Botting/ Local Democracy Reporter

“Councillors need to be reminded that in a democracy, the voting system belongs to the electors, not the elected,” Bain said.

The public had a legal right to demand the poll, he said.

It was not about which system the council used, but that the public had not been involved in the decision, Bain said.

Democracy Northland did not campaign against Kaipara District Council changing from STV to FPP earlier this year.

Olsen said she did not initiate the petition, but she supported its push for voters to have their say.

She said her extraordinary meeting push was not in favour of a particular voting system. It was about the community having an opportunity to share its views.

“I’m there to represent the ratepayers. This petition is a good thing to be happening,” Olsen said.

The council has used FPP since the choice was offered to local authorities in 2001.

Under STV, voters rank candidates in order of preference. Under FPP, the candidates with the most votes win.

At the August council meeting, Deputy Mayor Phil Halse introduced a motion for the council to retain its use of FPP.

However, a counter-push saw Carol Peters and Patrick Holmes tabling an amendment in favour of switching to STV.

Peters and Holmes won their counter-push by eight to five, supported by Nicholas Connop, Ken Couper, Deborah Harding, Scott McKenzie, Phoenix Ruka and Paul Yovich.

They outvoted Mayor Vince Cocurullo, Halse, Jayne Golightly, Olsen and Simon Reid. Gavin Benney abstained from voting.

The same pro -STV councillors opposed Olsen’s September push for FPP – except Yovich, who changed camp.

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

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