The integrity of our electoral system is critical to upholding our democratic system. However, the 2022 election exposed serious issues about the way we conduct local body elections.
Most Councils opt for postal voting over booth voting, although both are available. The problem with postal voting is that it appears our current electoral laws and practices are not robust enough to ensure that all votes are cast legitimately, nor that everyone who wants to vote is given the means to do so.
We have insufficient meaningful checks and balances, a specific requirement of the Electoral Act 2001 (section 4). For example, following the October 2022 local body, several accounts of the abuse of the voting system were reported. These include the practice know as “vote harvesting”, whereby people collect unclaimed voting envelopes from letter boxes, fill them in and deliver to ballot boxes. There are also reports of people voting multiple times using the voting envelopes of family and friends, and “social voting”’ whereby are brought together to vote. Not to mention the thousands of voting envelopes delivered to the wrong addresses - thereby leaving the system vulnerable to voter fraud - and the non-delivery of voting packs.
Screenshots from social media of people boasting of their flaunting of electoral law.
Local body elections are required to be conducted in such a manner as to comply with the principles set out in s 4 of the Local Electoral Act 2001 so far as is practicable in the circumstances, in particular:
- Protection of the freedom of choice of voters and;
- The secrecy of the vote, and;
- The provision of transparent electoral systems and voting methods and;
- The adoption of procedures that produce certainty in electoral outcomes.
There is much room for improvement
The primary issues arising from the postal voting procedure are:
- People not receiving their voting papers in time for the election – or not at all.
- The inability to identify who completed the voting documents delivered to the ballot box.
- The lack of requirement for voters to demonstrate that they are residentially qualified to vote in a particular ward; that the voter declares that they live at an address in a particular ward is considered sufficient.
- When updating the electoral roll there is no requirement for voters to provide evidence of their residential address.
- The electoral roll letter sent to voters does NOT require voters to confirm that their details on the electoral roll are correct. Instead, the letter asks voters to update their details if they are not correct. If someone has moved, they will very likely not receive the letter in the first place.
- There is no requirement for voters to identify their authenticity on the ballot paper (or returning envelope).
- Reportedly, a lack of post boxes and an unreliable postal service, especially in rural areas.
After noticing a voting pattern in the 2022 election which was inconsistent with previous elections, council candidate for the Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa Ward, Will McKenzie, took a closer look at the postal voting system, and made a submission to the Inquiry into the 2022 Local Elections.
Will emphasised to the Justice Committee, which is conducting the inquiry, that improvements include the requirement of people to identify themselves and where they live, for the roll to be up to date, and for the Electoral Commission to take over local body elections and run them the same way as central body elections.
In more detail, Will suggests the following improvements to restore public confidence in the integrity of the local body electoral process:
- The use of an up-to-date electoral roll that requires voters to actively confirm their correct details before each election.
- The verification of residential address and the resulting qualification to vote in a particular ward. (At the moment no verification of residential address is required, a voter who is so inclined may wrongly enroll in marginal ward rather than their own ward which is not marginal).
- The Electoral Commission take over the running of all local body elections and run them with the same procedures and practices as central government elections. This would better ensure that all Local Body elections are conducted in compliance with section 4 of the Electoral Act. (Unlike parliamentary elections, which are run by independent Crown entity the Electoral Commission, the local government elections are the responsibility of individual councils who hire private companies to conduct them).
- The use of either polling booths with voter identification or secure postal voting with the requirement for signatures that are automatically checked against voters’ signatures on their enrolment applications (this is done in the US and Canada), and the requirement for ballots to be witnessed as is common around the world.
Voter identification is common outside New Zealand, with signatures and witness being standard identification methods. In Canada, by whatever voting system used, it is necessary for a voter to establish his or her identity and his or her residential address every time they vote or change their details on the electoral roll.
Establishing identity and residence is a standard requirement in New Zealand, not for voting [in local body elections], but for getting a library card. It is suggested this should also be a requirement for voting in New Zealand.
You can view Will’s oral submission to the Justice Committee at https://www.facebook.com/JUSCNZ/