Local Government elections in SA are just that little bit different to the State and Federal equivalents. Most notably there is no compulsion to vote. Elections at a local level are also conducted over a two week period, predominantly through postal rather than the traditional single day ballot box. Also, there are no political parties running candidates. This is the case in Unley and whilst some state and federal MPs support candidates in other council areas, these candidates are still unaligned and so not bound to vote according to any political party directives: some do, which is a shame but that’s another matter.
So motivating people to vote is a big thing at a local level. As the Electoral Commission of SA updated the voting numbers, there began a lot of talk during these two elections weeks that few people were voting and a great deal of speculation as to why that was aired across the media. I’d like to thank the media for that. I think it was thanks to this talk that some people voted who would have otherwise not have.
The final tally of election results having now come in, shows that across the state 31.99% of eligible voters took up their opportunity to be responsible and voted. This result is the fourth highest on record and in line with more recent election results.
In the year I was born,1983, the local Council elections returned just under 15%. It would be wrong to compare this figure to elections now because only half the Councils were dissolved and up for reelection so theoretically the 15% should be doubled and by doing this is roughly equates to the voter turnout achieved this year.
Ideally everyone would voluntarily vote. Whilst 30% is not ideal we should set targets and do a great deal of analysis to examine what motivates people to vote or abstain. The Local Government Association in conjunction with some electoral experts will look into this matter.
Some observations, the smaller the Council the higher the voter participation. Country Councils return a higher voter turnout than metropolitan Councils. In metro areas, people move house (on average) every 8 years, in Unley this figure falls to every 5 years. I wonder how this last point impacts on voter behaviour? Considering the local nature of these grass roots elections how connected to the community must you be in order to be motivated to vote? After how many years living in an area will you vote? If you know you are leaving an area within 2 or 3 years will you be likely to vote?
Culturally, local Councils are important to us. We shouldn’t take them for granted. Local Councils are fundamental to our understanding of who we are as a society.
Councils in SA collectively receipt and then spend over a billion dollars, collectively have 737 elected representatives and 8,000 staff. As an average that means that out of our population of 1.677 million we have one representative for every 2,275 of us. That is a healthy democracy when you are talking about local issues that affect mums and dads.
There is always room for improvement. I’m comfortable with reform of local government, whatever that means. I’d also like to see electoral reform with online voting and each person given as many votes as there are candidates for the ward rather than the preferential system. But as with any good democracy such reforms will take some time to work their way through the system. For now, I think we can simply be confident that our system is doing a good job.
It is often the personal touch. Those candidates that are elected normally have met those people who vote for them. No always but often. Otherwise it can come down to something they have written which the voter relates to.