The Department of Internal Affairs

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Local Government in New Zealand - Local Councils


Local Electoral Act 2001

The Local Electoral Act 2001 (LEA) sets out the rights of local voters, procedures for the conduct of local electors and options for local electoral systems.

Purpose and Principles of Local Electoral Act 2001 (LEA)

Reflecting the desire for local discretion where appropriate, the purpose of the LEA (section 3) includes to -

  1. allow diversity (through local decision-making) in relation to –
    1. the particular electoral system to be used for local elections and polls; and
    2. the regular review of representation arrangements for councils; and
    3. the particular voting method to be used for local elections and polls; and
  2. implement the principles set out (in the Act).
The principles of the LEA (section 4) are:
  1. fair and effective representation for individuals and communities:
  2. all qualified persons have a reasonable and equal opportunity to
    1. cast an informed vote:
    2. nominate 1 or more candidates:
    3. accept nomination as a candidate:
  3. public confidence in, and public understanding of, local electoral processes through –
    1. the provision of a regular election cycle:
    2. the provision of elections that are managed independently from the elected body:
    3. protection of the freedom of choice of voters and the secrecy of the vote:
    4. the provision of transparent electoral systems and voting methods and the adoption of procedures that produce certainty in electoral outcomes:
    5. the provision of impartial mechanisms for resolving disputed elections and polls.”

Choice of Electoral System

The LEA provides a choice of electoral system for the conduct of local elections and polls. Councils and their communities have the choice of either using the First Past the Post (FPP) electoral system or the Single-Transferable Vote (STV) system. For the purposes of the LEA, councils include councils, licensing trusts and district health boards (DHBs).

District health board elections, which are required to be conducted in association with local authority elections, are required by the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000 to be conducted using STV.

The process for councils (ie councils and licensing trusts) to change electoral system is either as a result of a resolution (which is subject to the right for 5% of electors to demand a poll to countermand that resolution) or a poll (either demanded by 5% of electors or as a result of a resolution).

If there is a change in electoral system as a result of a poll, or a poll rejects a change, that decision will apply for a minimum of two triennial general elections and will continue until a further council resolution or a poll demand. If there is a change as a result of a resolution, that decision will apply for the next triennial general election and continues in effect until a further resolution or poll.

The number of councils that have adopted STV historically are as follows:

  • In 2004, 10 councils
  • In 2007, 8 councils
  • In 2010, 6 councils

The system of STV to be used is based on Meek’s method of counting votes. This identifies a “keep value” for all votes for each candidate who achieves the quota of votes required to be elected. The remainder is transferred to the voter’s second and subsequent preferences. This method of transferring votes (subsequently developed as Algorithm 123) avoids the arbitrary nature of transferring whole votes, once the quota has been achieved, associated with traditional methods of STV. It does, however, require a computer program for the counting of votes. This has been developed by the Department of Internal Affairs and is licensed free of charge to councils.

Representation Arrangements

The provisions for representation arrangements include the option for councils and their communities to decide to introduce designated Māori representation by establishing Māori wards or constituencies. The process for establishing and retaining Māori wards/constituencies mirrors that for changing the electoral system. It is also based on the precedent set by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, which promoted its own local legislation requiring designated Māori representation for that region given the low Māori representation on the council in relation to the Māori population.

The reviewed legislation requires councils to conduct representation reviews (of membership and basis of election) at least every 6 years. These reviews are undertaken once decisions have been made on the electoral system and any decision on designated Māori representation. As part of this review –

  • Territorial authorities decide whether the basis of election will be wards, at large, or a combination of both (constituencies are mandatory for regional councils).
  • Territorial authorities and regional councils decide the number of wards/constituencies and members to ensure fair and effective representation within legislative limits ( between 6 and 30 members for territorial authorities, and 6 and 14 members for regional councils).
  • Territorial authorities consider whether there should be separately elected community boards in their district and, if so, the number, location and size.

Once councils have completed their initial review they are required to consult their communities on their proposals and to invite submissions. Following consideration of submissions and determination of a final proposal, there is a right of appeal or objection (on amended proposals) to the Local Government Commission which will then make a final determination.

In carrying out their review, councils are required to ensure, in accordance with the principle of fair and effective representation, that their proposals will –

  • In relation to wards/constituencies, provide effective representation of communities of interest in the district/region.
  • In relation to the number of members, provide fair representation having regard to the population of the district/region as a whole and of every ward/constituency (for this purpose, the ratio of population of each ward/ constituency to members, is generally to be not greater or less than +/-10% of the ratio of population of the whole district/region to the total number of members).

Choice of Voting Method

Councils presently have the choice of booth voting, postal voting, or a combination of both. (At the 2010 elections all councils used postal voting.) While the primary legislation is neutral in terms of voting method, detailed regulations will have to be promulgated before electronic voting is available for use for local elections and polls.

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