NZ now has five Mayors under 40

The country's mayoral ranks appear to be shifting to a new generation. As of yesterday, five Mayors are aged under 40.

Local Government NZ principal policy advisor Mike Reid says it reflects a change in the major issues.

"Younger people are taking an interest in these elections in greater numbers than we've seen before, and often around themes like the environment... and wanting to see more local action on these issues." 

The five officially young Mayors are Campbell Barry (Hutt City); Nigel Bowen (Timaru); Sam Broughton (Selwyn); Aaron Hawkins (Dunedin); and Alex Walker (Central Hawke's Bay). Two of them were incumbents. 

Barry is the country's youngest Mayor ever, at 28, taking the title from Norman Kirk - who was 30 when he became Mayor of Kaiapoi in 1953, two decades before becoming Prime Minister.

"The really increasing awareness of climate change and what that's going to mean for future generations - including the current young generation - is really focusing people's attention on what the public sector can do," said Dr Reid.

Also, a quarter of all Mayors are now women, up from 19 percent following the 2016 elections.

"Not only are we seeing more female Mayors, we're probably seeing more women in local government as a whole," said Dr Reid. "It'll be fascinating to see what that's going to mean in terms of how councils work in the future."

DHBs are the only local government sector which women are the majority.

The 2019 results at this stage are still preliminary. Some would-be Mayors - like in Kaikoura - are separated by only a few votes.

As for overall voter turnout, Local Government NZ says it's a mixed bag - with some regions seeing more voters, and others fewer.

"Overall turnout stood at just over 44 percent as of late afternoon Saturday, but excluded data from Clutha, Porirua and New Plymouth," said Dr Reid. 

"Early indications are that voter turnout in these areas was lower than in the previous election, which may drag on the overall number but we can't say to what extent at this stage."

In 2016 voter turnout was 42 percent, and in 2013 it was 41.3 percent. In the 1980s, turnout was in the high-50s. 

Some have suggested online voting could be the answer. There was a last-minute surge of voters showing up in person to vote this year.

"We'd urge caution in attributing the level of turnout to any one factor, such as the lack of online voting options," said Dr Reid. "International data suggests democratic participation at a local level is a challenge across the developed world due to a multiplicity of factors."

The census, which went digital-first last year, actually saw completion rates plummet.



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