Local Elections 2022: Aucklanders warned to be careful when voting

Political scientist Dr Julienne Molineaux says voters don’t have enough information about candidates.

1st September, 2022

Trenton Doyle, Te Rito Journalism Cadet

Local Elections 2022: Aucklanders warned to be careful when voting

Rose Leonard from Auckland Council shows off the new drop-off boxes that will be in Auckland supermarkets when voting opens.  Photo/Lawrence Smith/Stuff

​Aucklanders are being urged to be vigilant about who they vote for in this year’s local body elections, as covert groups run for council.

Political scientist at Auckland University of Technology, Dr Julienne Molineaux, says voters don’t have enough information about candidates.

“You open up your ballot and say who the heck are these people, and what do they stand for?”

Molineaux says that lack of information about elections and candidates is an issue for about a third of non-voters.

“A decent chunk of people could start voting if they knew what local government was, when elections are on, or who all these people are,” Molineaux suggests.

Auckland Council election manager Rose Leonard agrees, imploring Aucklanders to be wary of people they can’t find information about, especially given the current climate.

“An awful lot has happened [since the last elections] and there’s a lot of disinformation and fright and scare out there” says Leonard.

Auckland Council requires candidates to submit a nomination form with a 150-word description.

Some electoral officers attach voluntary surveys to all nomination forms, which a number of candidates “do not bother to return” according to Dale Ofsoske from Independent Election Services.​

Candidates often submit incomplete ones too, Molineaux says.​

Local Elections 2022: Aucklanders warned to be careful when voting

A video posted on Odysee from 2nd August tells VFF supporters how to run for local council, with tips on how to get elected. Photo/Voices for Freedom

​Leonard says that information about candidates is sparse because “we [only] know what they’re prepared to tell us. We need to check [if] they are citizens, but that’s a relatively low test".

Decoy tickets

The Waitematā Local Board in Auckland might be under-the-radar but it is normally hotly contested, with 20 candidates running this year.

Four candidates are standing in Waitematā under newcomer ticket Rock the Vote, which has no website or information about it on social media.

PMN News can reveal that this is a decoy alias, or fake name, used by supporters of Voices for Freedom (VFF), one of the main anti-Covid-19 mandate groups at the protests outside parliament in February.

VFF promotes false information about Covid-19, science, politics, and the media via its website, emails, Telegram, and Odysee after the group was banned from Facebook last year.

VFF emailed its supporters several times in July and August, urging them to stand for local bodies, as board roles are “the most straightforward to get into", one email read.

The emails directed followers to avoid putting “Voices for Freedom or VFF as the affiliation or group represented when filling out the candidate form".

In a video published on Odysee on 2 August, one of VFF’s founders reminded followers to “tell people you’re doing it [standing for council]” but that they “might want to do it in secret".

Local Elections 2022: Aucklanders warned to be careful when voting

A meet the candidates event for the Waitematā Local Board in Parnell on 17 August. Photo/PMN News/Trenton Doyle

Candidate transparency

Despite people not always declaring allegiances, Molineaux reckons it’s not a big deal if “they are still transparent about why they’re standing".

If a ticket dominates a local board’s election results, its elected members then get to pick the chairperson, who “gets the full-time salary, the resources, and a lot of influence” she confirms.

But Kayli Taylor from the Disinformation Project argues that candidates should be truthful about who they are and their values regardless.

“Particularly within a climate of such rampant disinformation, the responsibility then goes onto voters to do additional research into the candidates and why they’re running for these positions” says Taylor.

To give more candidate information to voters ahead of the elections, the council will release a new online tool.

Aucklanders will be able to enter their address to find key information about the relevant candidates in their area.

“Voters deserve easy access to information. It’s a challenge to the media this election,” says Molineaux.

Voting opens on 16 September closes on 8 October.

What are Local Boards?

Auckland’s 21 local boards are less glamorous but vital parts of the governance structure, and they’ve been steadily gaining more powers over the past decade.

Leonard says they  are important because of things like parks, animal restrictions, or “opening hours for kids doing homework at the library".

Molineaux agrees that they’re more connected to the community, but concedes that it “would be easy for me to not even know that such a thing existed".