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Electing the mayor of Mahurangi

by 29 Sep 2009Regional governance0 comments

Warkworth map

X Marks the Spot: The Mahurangi Action Plan will have a prime presence in Warkworth’s Kowhai Festival, on 10 October. map Mahurangi Magazine

If the vote is split, the first regional mayor may all too easily be the abrasive John Banks.

The risk of vote splitting could have been avoided, had local government embraced preferential voting—ludicrously, its implementation under the Local Electoral Act 2001 was left to individual councils, ensuring that no nation-wide debate could be generated.

This is classically illustrated by chairman Michael Lee, when summing up the regional council’s desultory response:

Council was concerned that a change to STV would cause confusion at the 2007 local government elections, particularly if the local councils stayed with FPP.

But very specifically, the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance served up an unprecedentedly powerful mayoralty to the mercy of first-past-the-post. In so doing, it ignored numerous submissions stressing the need for the safeguard of preferential voting.

Because of its utter familiarity, the crudity of first-past-the-post is unapparent to most—it is divide and conquer constitutionalised. Along with slavery, male-only suffrage, and cigarette smoking, once it is finally consigned to history, it will be barely conceivable that it was ever tolerated. It may appear a manly, snooze-you-lose, winner-takes-all, no-nonsense kind of practice, but all too often the ‘winner’ squeaks in with less than half the votes. Banks barely scraped together 40% of the votes cast, while Alex Swny’s slither of the vote (9%) sank any surviving hope dear Dick Hubbard had (31%) of receiving a fresh, less-Huckery term of office.

The election is currently a two-horse, Banks–Brown race, Sue Bradford’s mooted candidacy as a councillor notwithstanding. However, if a candidate of the calibre the royal commissioners were attempting to invoke was to step up, all bets would be off:

This role will be significantly broader than that of any of the current mayoral positions. It will require a real step change in thinking; broad, strategic, inclusive leadership will be vital.

This marvellous new role, in a four-way split, could be filled by someone attracting little more than a quarter of all votes cast, and by the less than half likely to vote—the turnout for Bank’s victorious effort was 40%, meaning he was supported by a scant 16% of eligible voters.

A higher level of voter interest, and better opinion polling, may go some way to ensuring that the first mayor of Mahurangi and the rest of Makaurau has a meaningful mandate.

But unless it stipulates preferential voting for Makaurau’s first mayor, the government risks a travesty of the proportions of the Peters and party hopping perversion of the first proportional parliament.

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