Each person gets the same right to vote, regardless of wealth. We regard that as a fundamental of our democracy. But it’s not true. A hangover from the days when only those with land could vote still exists. It’s called the ratepayer franchise. Most Kiwis only get to vote in the local body elections where they live but a wealthy few get to vote both where they live and where they own other property.
It’s not right, and it means that a number of small communities are losing local control to out of towners whose interests are decidedly different from those of the locals.
I was staying with a mate in a little coastal town last summer and the community was experiencing exactly this problem. The locals have always got by just fine with septic tanks but the holiday home owners find them too much hassle and want a sewer system put in. But everyone will have to carry the cost of a sewer system. At several thousand dollars a year, it’s an expensive and unnecessary luxury for the locals who mostly get by on low incomes. Basically, the out of towners want the community to pay for expensive amenities for their holiday homes, and the ratepayer franchise gives them the voting power to get it.
Similarly, in a lot of coastal towns locals feel the character of the area is being ruined by unsightly development allowed by councils that are beholden to holiday home owners due, in part, to the ratepayer franchise (this excellent piece of journalism, 27 minutes long, on RNZ a few weeks ago about coastal development was what got me thinking about the issue of the ratepayer franchise, not Celia Wade-Brown’s misdirected criticism the other day).
OK. The number of ratepayer voters isn’t huge- 5,500 – but that’s half the point. This is a special vote for those wealthy enough to own land in one constituency and live somewhere else. And in some specific constituencies they have a major impact. As the Local Elections Statistics 2007 report notes:
“Ratepayer electors comprised less than one percent of all electors for all types of elected bodies in 2007. However, in some areas, ratepayer electors comprise more than 10% of electors. For example, almost 18% of electors for the Akaroa-Wairewa Community Board were ratepayer electors. Ratepayer electors can comprise a relatively large amount of all electors in some wards, constituencies or boards, particularly in small district councils with relatively large numbers of holiday homes.”
In the Thames-Coromandel District Council election 11% of votes were cast by people who didn’t live in the district. In specific locales, it’s even higher.
In the Great Barrier Community Board election 11% of voters were out of towners. Kawhia Community Board 12%, Mercury Bay Community Board 16%, Whangamata Community Board 16%, Stewart Island Community Board 16%, Tekapo Community Board 18%. In the Tairua-Pauanui Community Board election a whooping 22% of voters didn’t live locally.
People should be allowed to vote in the local body elections for where they live. They shouldn’t be allowed to double dip just because they’re rich. That’s not fair.
One person, one vote – that’s democracy.
And I assume this thinking way behind the decision to abolish the ratepayer franchise in 1986. Unfortunately, it was restored in 1991.
My challenge is for an MP to stand up for the local communities who are having their local decisions subverted by out of towners who aren’t interested in the year-round community, only the summer amenities.
A private member’s bill could be put forward abolishing the ratepayer’s franchise and restoring the principle of one person, one vote. It would make sense for Coromandel MP Sandra Goudie to take it on because it is communities in her electorate that are most affected. But any MP could take on the job. Any takers?