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Getting the election rolling

Chris Giles, left, with Philip Parkes getting geared up for the big election push. PHOTO/KAREN COLTMAN

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Sixteen pallets of “gear” needed to run the 2020 general election in Wairarapa have arrived at the Chapel St departmental buildings for returning officer Chris Giles to organise.

Giles is getting ready to take over the second floor of the building for the next three months and will soon be filling it with people and office equipment. It is his job to make sure the votes of the Wairarapa electorate get recorded and counted accurately.

There are 59,600 people on the electoral roll – this is 90 per cent of eligible voters.

“I only have half a dozen people on board but by election day, I’ll have a team of around 300 working to get the vote in safely and to count it,” Giles said.

“The voter turnout could be bigger than 2017 because of the referendum questions. We are planning for this in case it is high, but it is hard to tell what effect the questions will have on turnout.”

The Wairarapa electorate runs right out to Ngawi, and over to Waipawa in Central Hawke’s Bay. There was an 83 per cent turnout in 2017, which was higher than the national turnout of 79.8 per cent.

Giles is sorting out about 400 cardboard voting booths ready to assemble at about 62 polling stations for Saturday, September 19. But early voting is increasing with nearly 50 per cent voting before election day in 2017. Advance voting starts on September 5, which is in eight weeks.

Wairarapa Registrar of Electors Philip Parkes works in Perry St. He is a fulltime permanent employee of the Electoral Commission and has been on the job for 20 years. He has gone through the Wairarapa roll and culled no-longer-valid enrolments, and is now targeting the missing 10 per cent.

Of the over 60-year-olds enrolled last election, more than 86 per cent voted but this is not the case for 18- to 24-year-olds. The enrolment in this age group is about 80 per cent and the turnout is just under 70 per cent.

Up to age 34 the 2017 voter turnout was only 66.5 per cent.

Parkes and Giles will work in tandem over the next couple of months and they are particularly keen to get more Maori, Pacific, ethnic minorities, and young adults enrolling. Masterton East had a low voter turnout.

Across New Zealand, of those registered as Maori, whether on the Maori or General roll, the turnout for 2017 was 70.3 per cent, well below the national average.

Giles said that getting young adults on the roll generally sets up a voting pattern for life.

On Writ Day, August 16, the electoral roll officially closes. Parkes has a month to go before the Governor-General directs the government to hold the election and the roll is printed. People who enrol after this date are not on the printed roll and won’t receive an ‘easy vote card’ in the post. The easy vote card has the voter’s name on it and the page number and line it is on in the roll.

“Being on the printed roll makes it easier for you to vote but this year for the first time ever people can go to a polling booth unenrolled, enrol and vote on election day,” Parkes said.

This means his team will be working right through until 7pm and a bit beyond because enrolments will be taken right up to then.

“We want no barriers to voting. In fact, if someone were still waiting to vote at 7pm we would ensure they could cast their vote.”

Parkes said he was excited that things were starting to roll. He is focused on ensuring new immigrants and ‘hard to reach’ groups are aware they have a right to vote and have a say about the shape of the next government.

The Update Campaign started last week and all those on the roll can expect mail from the Electoral Commission in the next few days to confirm their details.

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