WA’s newest Local Government Minister is trying to raise awareness about this October’s upcoming council elections amid concerns about low voter turnout and fewer candidates than past years. The 2023 local government elections will also introduce big changes for the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River, with the president’s role up for grabs via popular vote for the first time. New Local Government Minister David Michael said he was concerned about WA’s diminishing voter participation rate and urged for new blood to run for election this year. “I’m hoping it halts the general decline we’ve seen in voter turnout in recent years,” he said. Just 30 per cent of West Australians voted at the 2021 local government elections. “These elections are a landmark opportunity for people to vote to shape the future of their community,” Mr Michael said. “I also want to encourage anyone who is thinking of standing for council to nominate for election. “It is one of the most rewarding decisions I ever made.” Incumbent Augusta-Margaret River Shire president Paula Cristoffanini said she was yet to make a decision about her re-election. Councillor Brian Daniel was keener, telling the Times last month he would seek re-election to continue efforts to improve Shire culture and effectiveness. Cr Kylie Kennaugh, who is facing the end of her second stint as an elected member after a previous retirement, said she was torn between volunteering in the community and standing for council again. “I do need to ensure that I align all my ducks to be able to run for the role again and need to ensure that my family, whom I work with in both businesses, are on board,” she said. Amid the changes Mr Michael hoped would boost voter turnout were new reforms which he said gave electors more voice. As well as direct elections for the Shire presidency, this year’s elections will include a new optional preferential voting rule. Similar to State and Federal elections, the change means candidates receiving the lowest votes will have their ballots redistributed to each voter’s second and potentially third and fourth choices, if they have indicated them. Voter cards without other marked options will be discounted. Voting itself remains non-compulsory, but those who do vote will have the choice to number as many boxes as they like in their order of preference. Mr Michael expected candidates to do preference-swap deals or issue how-to-vote recommendations but did not expect that to translate to political parties having any more influence, which was a key concern. He said the change was about giving people more power to choose the winner. “In the past there’s been councillors elected that sometimes get 20 to 30 per cent of the vote, or sometimes even less,” Mr Michael said of the old method. “That’s the benefit of optional preferential, or preferential in general, but optional preferential means that someone’s going to get 50 per cent of the vote.” The Department of Local Government has ramped up a campaign of voter information and advertising aimed at increasing turnout to the elections. The Times understands three council positions plus the new presidency will be up for grabs in October.