But Ms Pohatu was among just 52 percent of voters who turned out to tick the boxes in 2007. It was the same at the 2004 election Figures were better in 2001 — 62 percent
Which is why, as a Ka Pai Kaiti trustee, she is one of the forces driving the newly-minted Voter Participation Project.
“Ka Pai Kaiti is building on a long-standing aim of Te Poho o Rawiri Marae and (community facility) Te Reo o Te Iwi Kokiri to get local people out there and voting in local body elections,” she says. “We have to make local decision-making more relevant for young people so we are all actively involved in planning and making our communities more resilient.”
With Gisborne District Council and Tairawhiti District Health Board elections scheduled for this year, the project is gaining momentum with funding secured to pay a Voter Participation project manager.
“It has been great to see the two local runanga support the project along with Gisborne District Council, the Electoral Commission and local residents” said Ms Pohatu, who is also Te Puni Kokiri’s regional director. “We are now able to get the project under way and this new role provides an exciting opportunity for the right person to lead the process.”
Once Ka Pai Kaiti finds a project manager — to be employed on a part-time basis for most of the year — it will be responsible for finding out why people don’t vote, then encouraging them to do so.
Its role will involve studying international research on what works to mobilise citizens who don’t usually vote. And it will also need to design an education and mobilisation campaign “including the co-ordination of neighbourhood workers and volunteers to promote key messages in targeted communities”.
According to Mere Pohatu, there will be a strong focus on targeting young people, particularly those ones who will this year be eligible to vote for the first time.
“We do have some idea about why people choose not to vote,” she says. “Our challenge now is to motivate changes in awareness and attitude.”