Voter participation

Falling voter participation in the Adelaide Hills Council region in the wake of the council’s decision to change its structure has come as a surprise and disappointment to former Mayor Bill Spragg.
The decision to move away from five wards was one of the most controversial decisions made since the council was formed more than two decades ago and, at times, ramifications of the debate are still felt in the chamber.
Supporters of the wardless system believed abolishing or reducing the number of wards would benefit ratepayers by giving them more choice during elections, reducing parochialism and increasing voter participation.
So it’s understandable that Mr Spragg – a strong supporter of a wardless council – is disappointed with the reduced turnout during the most recent election.
Mr Spragg still maintains that the change in ward structure has been a success by reducing parochialism and removing some associations with the former council boundaries.
But its failure to achieve greater voter participation is evident through an almost 10% drop in participation despite an increase in eligible voters.
The trend of decreasing participation is not replicated across the region.
The neighboring Mt Barker Council experienced a significant increase in voter participation while engagement in the Alexandrina Council remained consistent.
So the Adelaide Hills Council’s declining engagement cannot be blamed on voter fatigue after residents and ratepayers were forced to go to the poll twice in the lead-up to the local government elections.
The council has experienced a fairly consistent decline in voter participation since its formation in 1997, but this year’s 9% drop was the second biggest it has seen between two elections.
It may be too soon to blame the new ward structure for the decline in participation, but it’s yet to be seen whether the new structure will begin reversing the decline in future.
Voter participation during future elections will give future councils more information about the impact of the structural change.
It’s important that they use this information – as well as evidence about the other benefits or disadvantages of the change – when undertaking future structural reviews.

For the full report, see the print issue of The Courier.