Rotorua Lakes Council election: Change to rural ward voting system angers some residents

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Andrea Hammond. Photo/Andrew Warner

Some voters in rural Rotorua are crying foul over a new electoral process, saying they had no idea they would only be allowed to vote for a mayor and councilor this year.

All eligible voters should have received their ballots in the mail for the upcoming local elections, but some rural voters say they were taken by surprise when they opened their envelopes.

They say they weren’t fully aware of the implications of a new voting system and say the board didn’t communicate it clearly.

The Rotorua Lakes Council says the changes have been widely communicated, including online and through advertisements.

Instead of choosing all councilors and a mayor, rural voters can only vote for a rural ward mayor and candidate, of which there are only two candidates to choose from – Shirley Trumper and Karen Barker.

A rural ward has emerged as a result of the review of council representation. As part of this review, the council sought to have a council consisting of three Maori ward seats, three headquarters seats, four general seats and also to have two community councils.

Local Electoral Law currently limits the number of seats in a Māori ward based on population ratios, so to adopt the preferred model the council needed legislative change and introduced a Local Bill in Parliament.

In the meantime, the council has decided on a model consisting of an elected mayor at large, a Maori ward seat, a headquarters seat, eight at-large seats and two community councils. .

Twelve appeals and objections were filed with the Local Government Commission about the draft model, so the commission reviewed it.

In April, the Local Government Commission revealed that it had canceled the interim council model and replaced it with a council consisting of three Maori ward seats, six headquarters seats and one rural ward seat. as well as two community councils – one of which is rural. .

A few weeks later, the attorney general ruled that the council’s local bill could not be justified and discriminate against voters on the general list. He said the bill created a disparity in the number of people represented by each ward council member and disadvantaged and discriminated against those in the headquarters.

The limits of rural and general districts.  Photo / Provided
The limits of rural and general districts. Photo / Provided

At the end of April, the council paused on the bill, meaning the commission model would be in place for the next term.

This year, four nominations were received for the four Rural Community Council seats, meaning no elections were held.

Kaharoa voter Andrea Hammond said locals she knew in her area were taken by surprise.

In his opinion: “It’s not even close to being clearly communicated.”

She said if people had known that would mean they could only vote for one councillor, the council would have received hundreds of objections.

Hammond said they only lived about 15 minutes from the center of Rotorua and the decisions taken by the council had fully impacted them.

“It affects all of us, not just those in the city. Our fares aren’t cheaper but we don’t have the same voice. Our involvement in council management has diminished significantly.”

She said she had no doubts that legal process was followed, but wondered how it could be fair.

Former Rotorua District Councilor and rural ward resident Bob Martin.  Photo/Andrew Warner
Former Rotorua District Councilor and rural ward resident Bob Martin. Photo/Andrew Warner

Former Rotorua District Councilor and Paradise Valley Rd resident Bob Martin said rural voters were unaware of the ramifications. He said he and other constituents he spoke to were looking through their envelopes, wondering if they were missing a page.

“It’s a difficult system to understand and I struggle, and I like to think I’m aware of it. We never had a clue.”

Martin said rural voters would feel like they had been reduced to one voice around the council table.

Kaharoa Community Association President Chris Paterson said she believes Kaharoa residents were generally aware of the change because she informed them of the process, but a few would have discovered it from their report cards. vote.

“We never looked for a single seat,” Paterson said. “They are not happy with it, but they have accepted it as due process for the time being, until a change can be made at the next election.”

Federated Farmers Rotorua-Taupo President Colin Guyton.  Photo / Provided
Federated Farmers Rotorua-Taupo President Colin Guyton. Photo / Provided

Rotorua-Taupo Federated Farmers chairman Colin Guyton, who now sits on the rural community council, said he heard from residents who were a bit shocked to find they could only vote in the rural ward.

“But that was the result of the review. From a rural person’s point of view, it’s better to have only one person, but we gave the opportunity to have a voice with others.”

Rotorua Rural Community Council deputy chairman Ben Hollier, who was re-elected to the council, said he had heard personal and social media comments that there had been some confusion over the meaning change and who they could vote for.

Ben Hollier, Deputy Chairman of Rotorua Rural Community Council.  Photo / Provided
Ben Hollier, Deputy Chairman of Rotorua Rural Community Council. Photo / Provided

“In an ideal world, this would have been part of the initial consultation, as it would have given the opportunity for this feedback to be passed on to the council, but the way it turned out, it was the consequence “, said Hollier.

Deputy chief executive of the council’s district and democracy leadership, Oonagh Hopkins, said the commission’s decision in April and confirmation in May was promoted on the council’s website and social media channels and on the Let’s Talk / Korero Mai consulting engagement platform.

It has also been included in the council’s weekly e-panui which residents can sign up for and was confirmed by elected members at a live-streamed public meeting of the committee.

It was also covered by the media and the Rotorua Rural Community Board shared the information and what it would mean for rural voters, Hopkins said.

Information on the voting pattern is included in the pre-election report which has been publicly available since August 1 on the council’s website and has also been promoted through the council’s social media channels and the weekly e-panui.

Hopkins said the information was also included in the voter information section that was part of all 2022 election information on the council’s website.

She said the information was also on screens in the Civic Center customer center and council library.

Hopkins said he received a call from a rural voter who was unaware of the change.

A Local Government Commission spokesperson said one of the issues raised by appeals and objections was whether there should be a separate rural headquarters for Rotorua.

The commission met with the council and the appellants and opponents who wished to be heard on March 23. The hearing was broadcast live.

The commission heard arguments for and against a separate rural headquarters and ultimately favored the arguments of appellants who had requested a separate rural headquarters, the spokesperson said.

Election Details

Closing of votes at noon on Saturday 8 October.

Completed ballots can be returned to orange “Vote” ballot boxes throughout the district, or they can be posted to a New Zealand post office box.

If you use NZ Post, you must post your ballots by 5 p.m. on October 4 to allow sufficient time for your papers to reach the processing center by noon on October 8.

If you have not received your ballots, contact the town hall.

If you are not registered to vote, registered after August 12, or your voting record is damaged or lost, you will need to vote by contacting the board.

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