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Democracy and you

By voting in the local elections, you are playing a vital role in the democratic process and having your voice heard on issues that affect Auckland and your local community.

What democracy really means

You have probably heard the term ‘democracy’ used a lot, so let’s start by looking at the word itself.

The word ‘democracy’ comes from the Greek word 'demo’s, meaning 'citizen’, and 'kratos’, meaning ’power’.

So, when these two are joined together we learn that democracy means “citizen power”, which you could also think of as ‘people power’.

 Infographic showing how democracy is made up of the Greek word "Demos" meaning citizen and "kratos" meaning power.

Power to the people

Democracy is a form of government where the people of a nation have the power to decide who will represent them and which laws they will live by.

Democracy in Aotearoa

Here in New Zealand, we have a form of representative democracy. That means that we decide who we want to represent us and our interests when decisions are made, at local or central government level.

In democracies, we select representatives (aka politicians) through the elections process.

Use your voice in elections and referenda

Elections give you the opportunity to vote for your preferred candidates who can act on your behalf when it comes to decision making.

Although it's not compulsory, voting plays a vital role in democracy and is a fundamental act of civic participation.


A referendum question asks people to vote on a particular idea or decision. The results may lead to the adoption of a new law. A binding referendum requires the result to be implemented (acted on) whereas an indicative referendum does not. All enrolled voters in New Zealand can take part in a referendum by post or in person.

Binding referenda

The Flag Referendum in 2015 asked New Zealanders to rank five proposed designs of a potential new flag. The 2016 Referendum asked people to choose between the current flag and the winning design from the first referendum. The vote was binding so the flag did not change.

Infographic showing how in 2015 Flag Referendum, most people voted to keep the current flag.

Indicative referenda

The Firefighters Referendum 1995 asked how many firefighters New Zealand should have. The results were provided as a recommendation to central government and used to inform MP’s in their decision-making process.

Citizens-initiated vs government-initiated referenda

Anyone can start a petition for a nationwide referendum known as a citizens-initiated referendum. For a referendum to be held, several processes set out in the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993 must be followed and supporting signatures from over 10 per cent of eligible voters nationwide must be obtained.

A government-initiated referendum is one promoted by the Government. It can be binding or indicative and can pose more than one question or questions with more than two possible answers.

Democracy in Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland

Most democratic nations have different levels or tiers of government.

In New Zealand we have local and central government.

Every three years, we have elections to choose who we want to represent us, whether it's across the country or within our local area.

Here in Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland, our local government is Auckland Council.

Find out more about the difference between local and central government.


Read next topic - Ways to participate in democracy.  


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