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Nine things you didn’t know about the District Health Board elections and were too embarrassed to ask

1. Let’s start with the basics. What is a District Health Board?

District Health Boards oversee public health services in New Zealand. They liaise with health care providers including hospitals, general practices, pharmacies and laboratories to ensure New Zealand’s health care system is operating properly.

The Canterbury DHB, the second largest in New Zealand, oversees the area from Kekerengu down to Rangitata, and inland as far as Arthur’s Pass. It has an annual budget of $1.2 billion and employs over 7000 staff. The DHB plans strategies in the health sector, allocates government funding for health and disability services, provides those services to Canterbury residents, oversees the provision of those services and promotes and educates residents about healthy behaviour.

2. OK, they do seem important. Why are they in the news at the moment though?

Because in the upcoming local body elections on October 12, you get to elect seven of the board’s 11 members for a new three-year term. The other four will be appointed by the Minister of Health, Tony Ryall, after the election. This will ensure that the right mix of diversity, experience and skills is on the board.

3. Who’s running?

This year, 26 candidates are standing for seven positions. Six of the current board – Aaron Keown, Anna Crighton, Andrew Dickerson, Chris Mene, David Morrell and Wendy Gilchrist – are running again. The board will be losing its most experienced member; Olive Webb, who has served since the board’s inception in 2001, is standing down.

Dr Webb said the current board was “probably the most mature board of the four and a half that I’ve sat on” because it “is getting to have their own history and own culture”.

4. Are they qualified?

The candidates do not have to meet any explicit requirements to sit on a District Health Board. Most of those on the board and standing in this election have some history in the health sector.

Candidates are required to declare conflicts of interest when they stand for election, so voters are fully aware of their existing ties with the health sector. You can check out the candidates’ statements, along with a 150 word personal profile, in the information booklet sent to all prospective voters from September 20. The booklet will also be available online.

Find out more about the candidates and ask them your questions at

5. Some of those names sound familiar. Are any of them already elected somewhere else?

Current member Aaron Keown also sits on the city council, and is running for reelection to both bodies. He made headlines during this term because he only fully attended a single DHB meeting in 2012, due to clashes with his duties as a councillor. Cr Keown defended his dual-role, saying a change of the monthly DHB meeting from a Friday to a Thursday created an unforeseeable clash. He said there were benefits to having a member on both bodies, in that it made it easier “for the left hand to know what the right hand is doing”.

Board member Wendy Gilchrist is running for a seat on the city council this year, while current councillor, Sally Buck, is standing down from the council to run for the DHB and Fendalton-Waimairi Community Board*.

6. Once they’re elected, what do they actually do?

DHB members attend monthly meetings of the whole board, and of the subcommittees they sit on, which last all day, where they deal with matters arising in the local health sector. They also liaise with people in the health sector, and serve as a point of contact for people who wish to raise issues.

[Take a look at this story for a more in-depth look at what the Canterbury DHB has been up to in their last term.]

7. Are they paid for it?

Example voting form for the Single Transferable Vote (STV) voting system used for DHB elections.
Example voting form for the Single Transferable Vote (STV) voting system used for DHB elections.

Board members receive $26,000 per year, the deputy chair receives $32,500 and the chairperson $52,000. Members also receive a fee of $250 ($312.50 for chairpersons) for each meeting of the DHB’s three committees they attend, capped at $2500 ($3125) per year.

Prospective candidates are advised that the role will require an estimated 60 days work a year.

8. How have these elections gone in the past?

Voter turnout in local body elections as a whole tends to be poor. Just over 52 per cent of voters cast a ballot in Christchurch’s last DHB elections. However, nearly 20 per cent of those ballots were left blank or filled out incorrectly.

Example voting form for the First Past the Post (FPP) voting system used for mayoralty, council and community board elections
Example voting form for the First Past the Post (FPP) voting system used for mayoralty, council and community board elections

9. Is there anything else I should know?

That’s about it, but there is one last, very important point to note. In the three other local body elections – for the mayoralty, council and community boards – the First Past the Post (FPP) voting system is used, where you simply tick the candidate or candidates you wish to vote for. For DHBs, Single Transferable Vote (STV) is used, where you rank as many or as few candidates as you wish, from one through 26.

More than 10,000 people were recorded as having cast an “informal” vote in the last election, meaning they made an attempt to cast a ballot, but did so incorrectly. This suggests there are thousands of people out there who wanted to have their voices heard in DHB elections, but were unable to. So remember, numbers, not ticks.

_Andrew Voerman

* Section 5 was amended because it mistakenly said Sally Buck was running again for Christchurch City Council as well as the DHB. Sally Buck is standing down from council and running for DHB and the Fendalton-Waimairi Community Board.