For many of us, the beginning of our university journey also marks the first time we can officially participate in civic society. It’s a major landmark that often gets lost in other excitement, especially if you don’t come of age in an election year.
Being 18 means you can finally buy your own alcohol, go clubbing, legally hit that vape, and generally make your own awful decisions. In the midst of all that, who’d have time to think about putting in your ballot?
High schoolers generally lack civic education—it’s hardly surprising that they don’t often think about what their civic rights and duties are. If you’re lucky, your Social Studies teacher might have set a few classes aside to teach you about the three branches of government and what different forms of governance look like (like democracy). We’ve all probably heard about MMP at some point in high school or uni but never really understood it.
What’s even less talked about is local elections. That goes for everyone, let alone the freshest of freshers. We all know Auckland Council exists, but what if we told you there actually had to be people to run it, and they make some pretty important decisions? For us, local council didn’t even enter our consciousness until Len Brown had that sex scandal.
Not enough people stand for or vote in local elections, and it’s a real problem. Less than 50% of eligible voters cast their ballot in the last local elections in 2019. One in five seats on local councils across the motu are uncontested. Do you want to run a city? Just put your hand up. Experience, qualifications, policies, community engagement? Doesn’t matter dude. Here, have a salary and an office. One guy, Richard Osmaston, is even running to be mayor of six districts: Malborough, Buller, Grey, Nelson City, Tasman, and Westland. The one silver lining: Māori wards are seeing healthier democratic participation, even if only because there are less seats.
In a city as big as Auckland, local council means a relatively small number of people are making decisions that will affect millions. We elect just 170 representatives, and they make decisions on public transport, rates, cultural, and sporting events, and public goods like libraries, cycleways, and public art—just to name a few.
It sounds dramatic, but these are positions of real power affecting our everyday lives, and it’s easier than it should be to land in one. Having a quick skim of the candidates on the Auckland Council website, two have racist policies, one is a climate change denier, one is anti-abortion, and one opens her statement with “single”. If you want to know more about the people who may soon run our city, Auckland Council has a more extensive breakdown of everything you need to know on their website.
The good news is that the situation can be improved. All it takes is for us to vote in the elections. Use your ballot, and use it wisely. An extra hour of research and care taken could be the difference between a functional city and a defunct one.
Flora Xie (she/her) and Naomii Seah (she/they).