Low turnout for local elections across the country has seen a number of strange results in various cities and districts, including the election of a lawnmower as the new mayor of the Auckland supercity.
The mower, which will soon replace incumbent mayor Len Brown in Auckland’s top job, received in excess of 4,000 votes, well ahead of Brown – with 1,400 – and American-born businessman John Palino, who received 700 votes.
Meanwhile, in Hamilton, the mayoralty was won resoundingly by inorganic anion fluoride, while in Christchurch, geonet.org.nz was elected to head the council, as locals felt it was often the first place they turned to during times of stress.
In Invercargill, long-time incumbent Tim Shadbolt narrowly fended off a difficult challenge from a bottle of detergent, and in Wellington, full-time man John Morrison was elected to not be mayor.
Some observers have been surprised by the rise of inanimate candidates in this year’s local election cycle, but Reid Research pollster Michelle Spencer is not so perplexed, saying that their victories are likely the result of extremely low voter turnout, which she believes tend to favour candidates who are not people.
“I think a lot of people assume that low turnout is just a matter of having a smaller sample size,” she said. “But this actually isn’t the case, and in reality, how many people vote can dramatically affect the result of an election.
“When you have low turnout, what you get is a voting population made up primarily of those who are the most motivated. What we often find in our research is that the most motivated voters are those who vote for what we might call ‘wild card’ or ‘fringe’ candidates. This category typically includes things that aren’t people.”
But despite Spencer’s cynicism, most Aucklanders surveyed about the new mayor said they were “satisfied” and that “it was time for a change.” They also felt the mower was the candidate they would describe as “best equipped” to deal with the city’s most pressing political issue: grass berms.
Amongst other reasons given for supporting or voting for the mower were “it cuts lawns,” and “Len Brown looks like a depressed clown.”
Prime Minister John Key yesterday called the lawnmower to congratulate it on its victory, and said he looked forward to working with it.
Asked whether he had any reservations about a lawnmower being the mayor of New Zealand’s largest city, Key replied “Yes.”
Despite its ringing endorsement from the voting public, the lawnmower is already facing some early setbacks, with its first press conference unable to be conducted over the loud churning of its motor.