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Election reforms move on

Reform of local body elections moved nearer to reality after the Local Government Electoral Legislation Bill had its second reading last week.

In a speech prior to the reading of the bill, Wairarapa MP and Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty said the bill was designed to “improve the way that individuals and communities are represented by, and can participate in, local government actions”.

A summary of the bill, published on the New Zealand Parliament website, said the bill would provide a revised process for deciding who sits on local councils, including inserting a process that would encourage equitable Maori representation.

“It would change the process councils follow every six years to determine representation arrangements, making consideration of Maori representation the first step of this process.”

The summary goes on to say the bill will increase the number of councillors on Auckland Council from 20 to range from 5 to 29. This bill will also simplify the processes used to change local board boundaries and for dealing with tied votes. Finally, it will allow all candidates to submit electronic nominations.

McAnulty said the bill set out an “enduring process for councils to consider Maori representation”.

“What this bill does not do is require councils to have Maori wards.

“These are important, local decisions. Maori wards might not work everywhere, and that’s okay.”

He said councils would be pleased to hear that the bill changes some of the time frames of the representation review process.

McAnulty said some councils that were required to have a review had been badly affected by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Because of this, the new requirements for councils to consider Maori representation will not come into force until the day after the 2025 local election.

McAnulty said in 2009, that there were some very close local elections where council seats were decided through a coin toss.

“Sometimes a coin toss is the best and fairest way to settle a tie. But I think it pays to make sure you’ve got the right result by doing a judicial recount before you toss the coin.

“Unfortunately, the current legislation says that the coin toss comes before the recount. That seems a bit backward to me.”

McAnulty then said in 2019 that people who had been told they were elected, either by a close margin or by a coin toss, were then told they were out of a job after a recount had been done.

“We’re changing the law to make sure that election outcomes are fair, understandable, and mana-enhancing.”

McAnulty said the bill makes three changes to correct the election system, including an automatic judicial recount for tight election results, a new ability for candidates to withdraw from the election after a judicial recount if there is still a tie, and a requirement for councils to now wait to have their first meeting until after any recounts are complete.

Submissions for the electoral legislation bill closed on September 14, 2022.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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