Electoral Commission recommendations for improving democracy

Bryce Edwards has a good summary of an Electoral Commission report: 10 ways to improve our elections

Last week the Electoral Commission released its report on the 2017 general election. It contained useful information about voting last year but, more importantly, it made a number of important recommendations to Parliament about improving New Zealand elections.

Recommendation 1: Fix MMP by dealing with earlier recommendations

The most important recommendation to come out of the report is for Parliament to again consider the 2012 Review of MMP. This report came up with some significant improvements, but was buried by the then-National government, which claimed there was not adequate consensus in Parliament to implement the changes.

It remains a disgrace that the 2012 review was ignored by self-interested politicians.

Notably, this 2012 report suggested that the MMP threshold of 5% should be lowered, because it had proved to be too high, in terms of being a barrier to new political parties gaining election to Parliament. To back up this point, the Commission’s recent report includes a table of information about the declining number of parties representing in Parliament.

With both NZ First and Greens just bettering the threshold in the 2017 election and at real risk of dropping below it next election there is a real risk that the number of parties will drop even further, with little chance of a new party getting into Parliament.

The 5% threshold is a failure for representative democracy and should be reduced at least to 3%, if not lower. It has been retained to protect large parties and is anti-democratic.

Recommendation 2: Update the prohibition on electioneering on election day and during the advance voting period

The Commission says the current election day rules, which essentially prohibit electioneering, are inconsistent with the rules in place during the advance voting period. This means there are only very limited rules for the couple of weeks prior to election day – when about half of votes are now made – but suddenly things become extremely restrictive on the actual final day of voting.

The current election day only rules have become a nonsense.

Recommendation 3: Fix the election broadcast allocations and prohibitions

This is especially a problem in terms of the money allocated each election to the parties, which they can spend on television, radio, and now also internet advertising. Last year the Commission allocated $4.1m to parties, but notes the ongoing complaints about lack of fairness in these allocations, drawing particular attention to smaller parties who claim to be disadvantaged by the unequal distributions of monies.

The Commission recommends a review. But these issues fall into both the “too hard” and “self-interest” baskets of the current parliamentary parties who benefit from the broken system.

The major beneficiaries of a badly flawed system should not be the ones who decide on a system that favours them.

Recommendation 4: Update rules about the misuse of electoral roll data

All sorts of companies, such as debt collectors and marketers make use of the printed electoral roll in order to carry out their commercial activities. There are huge privacy issues involved, which the law appears to be ignorant of, and there are people who therefore choose not to enroll to vote precisely because they don’t want their residential addresses to be made public.

The risk is made worse by the fact that the political parties are provided with the electoral roll in electronic form. This is a provision designed by the politicians so that their parties can more effectively send election advertising to voters and so forth. It’s questionable whether the parties should be given this data, and it seems that it’s an accident waiting to happen, as there are no procedures or guarantees that any of the 16 registered political parties will prevent this personal data falling into the wrong hands.

Recommendation 5: Allow Māori voters to change rolls at any time

Māori voters should be able to switch between the general and Māori electoral roll at any time according to the Commission. Currently, people of Māori descent can only change during the Māori Electoral Option period, every five-six years.

It seems odd that roll switching can only happen at specific times each 5-6 years.

Recommendation 6: Electoral offences system needs updating

When someone is deemed to have breached election rules, the Electoral Commission’s only remedy for this is essentially to refer the case to the Police for prosecution.

A substantial review of these laws is called for by the Commission. And although the politicians would surely welcome a chance to fix up some of the problematic rules they have to deal with, this area is a minefield of difficulty which could cause all sorts of prolonged debate about how to ensure elections are properly run without undue influence.

And the Police usually do nothing, or if they do something it takes so long it is ineffective.

Recommendation 7: Ban rosette wearing in polling places

Following last year’s election there were 342 complaints to the Commission about political party scrutineers wearing their party lapel badges or rosettes at the polling booths. Currently this is legal, but there seems to be an expectation that all voting places should be “campaign-free”, and therefore the Commission recommends a ban.

Seems trivial, but “campaign-free” polling places seems reasonable.

Recommendation 8: Allow voters to enroll on election day

Currently, voters can enrol to vote right up until election day. They can even enrol to vote at the same time that they make an advance vote in the two weeks leading up to election day. And of course, there are always a number of unenrolled voters who attempt to vote on election day, and have to cast a “special vote”, but have these disallowed. In 2017, 19,000 people had their votes disallowed. But the Commission suggests they should be allowed to enrol voters on election day.

A no-brainer – the current election day ban on enrolment is dated and ridiculous.

Recommendation 9: Introduce a fixed date for elections

The current rules for setting the triennial general election date are deliberately loose, allowing incumbent governments the choice of when to go to the polls. The Commission raises the prospect of changing the law to provide for a fixed election date – they suggest some discussion about this. They say that this would provide more certainty for voters, campaigners and candidates.

Is this fixing a problem that isn’t really broken? Some flexibility and pragmatism about election dates can’t be a problem.

Recommendation 10: Update where voting booths can be sited

The locations were people can cast their vote should be modernised according to the Commission. Currently there are a number of prohibitions relating to the sale and consumption of alcohol, which was historically meant to prevent voting in pubs where undue influence might occur. But now the Commission wants to set up booths where voters regularly gather, such as supermarkets and shopping malls.

In fact, in 2017 the Commission was remarkably successful in setting up advance voting booths in such places. But for election day, the rules are stricter, which meant that the booths had to be removed.

Bizarre. You can buy a bottle of wine or beer at a supermarket and then vote before election day but not on election day.

Finally, there are plenty of other recommendations of various levels of importance in the report.

The full Electoral Commission report.

Leave a comment

32 Comments

  1. PartisanZ

     /  May 2, 2018

    All long overdue and much needed basic changes to the currently entrenched ‘orthodox’ system which is looking extremely cumbersome in the digital world with declining participation especially from younger voters … the digital ‘next generation’ …

    Where is digital voting in this? Where are other possible ‘modern’ and contemporary methods for improving engagement and participation? Could they even be introduced into our Westminster ‘Secular-Christian Lodge’ form of government?

    These recommendations are like saying: “Well, it’s nearly 2020 and our electoral system is mired somewhere between 1855 and 1900 … Somewhere in there someone invented the motor car … so we’d better update it to say 1950 to 1990, just before the internet made such a huge impact on our lives …”

    “A party list proportional representation system was devised and described in 1878 by Victor D’Hondt in Belgium. D’Hondt’s method of seat allocation, the D’Hondt method, is still widely used. Victor Considerant, a utopian socialist, devised a similar system in an 1892 book. Some Swiss cantons (beginning with Ticino in 1890) used the system before Belgium, which was first to adopt list PR in 1900 for its national parliament.” – Wikipedia

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proportional_representation#History

    Note I’m not the first Utopian Socialist … only the first Utopian Enterprise-Socialist.

    Reply
  2. Griff

     /  May 2, 2018

    The criteria for entering Parliament should be sufficient votes
    120/1 of the party vote should be the threshold for representation of a minority party.
    Anything else is undemocratic.

    Reply
    • PartisanZ

       /  May 2, 2018

      Are you arguing for a 0.8% threshold …?

      Reply
      • Griff

         /  May 2, 2018

        I am arguing that enough votes to get one seat should be all thats required.
        120 seats.
        120/1 party votes should get you in.
        I have never been a fan of electoral seats they encourage pork barrel politics.

        Reply
        • PartisanZ

           /  May 2, 2018

          The idea has merit. Can you put a rough number or percentage on that?

          Reply
          • Griff

             /  May 2, 2018

            Total number of party votes in 2017 2,591,896 .
            Number required to pass the threshold under present system of 5% 1/20 =129.595.
            Number of the party votes required to get 1/120 = 21.600.

            Reply
  3. Callum

     /  May 2, 2018

    For 9 I would fix a date by which the election date has to be set, similar to what National did for previous elections. Announce the election well in advance, say by 31 March of election year.

    Reply
  4. cryptoWarrior

     /  May 2, 2018

    Why is moderation taking so long to process posts?

    Is moderation being used as a de facto tool for suppressing resistance to the Globalist ideology that informs the owner of this blog?

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  May 2, 2018

      Hard to say. Probably not.

      Reply
    • PartisanZ

       /  May 2, 2018

      We all have unconscious bias apparently … PG’s probably no exception …

      What’s yours cryptoWarrior?

      Reply
  5. Gezza

     /  May 2, 2018

    (Aw … Pete 😉 )

    Reply
  6. cryptoWarrior

     /  May 2, 2018

    I don’t know how anyone is expected to be able to engage in meaningful political debate when their posts are delayed for hours on end.

    It is stealth banning.

    Reply
  7. Griff

     /  May 2, 2018

    Reply
  8. Zedd

     /  May 2, 2018

    cutting through all that.. IF they at least drop the threshold to 2%, they would get broader representation; TOP, Conserv. Internet/Mana, Maori & maybe ALCP.. rather than the current: 2 ‘major parties’ & a couple of others (NZF & Grns) who managed to get over 5%.. oh yes & ACT (dodgy deal in Epsom).

    MMP is supposed to be about greater representation, but without more options (more parties in parliament), we still seem to be ‘just playing at MMP’ with echoes of FPP hanging around 😦

    In Germany they have about 10 parties ?

    Reply
    • Zedd

       /  May 2, 2018

      Of course there are perhaps some folks who would prefer a ‘one party system’ (National only !) which actually sounds closer to ‘Fascism by stealth’ OR even ‘Communist China’

      Reply
      • PartisanZ

         /  May 2, 2018

        No Zedd, those same people always claim to want “a strong opposition” when National is in power …

        I take them at their word.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  May 2, 2018

          Simon relaxed and smiled a bit talking to a reporter about the Government’s failings in a clip I was watching in a Herald article a couple of days ago. He dropped the po faced look & suddenly managed to look almost human-like & electable. Hope for improvement there, perhaps.

          Reply
          • PartisanZ

             /  May 2, 2018

            Yes … Quite correct Gezza … We need “a strong Opposition” …

            Reply
    • PartisanZ

       /  May 2, 2018

      I agree 2% sounds a reasonable threshold. Such a change should result in some very real and meaningful coalition deals …?

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  May 2, 2018

        Well, they might be on paper in some people’s minds but the current one looks a bit of a dog’s breakfast and wants to levy people more (#moretax) to pay for the jumble of promises they all made & they’ve had to sign up to to get the nod from the GG. Now we’re all hanging out to see what Grant can manage to cobble together, then stick a tail on it, and call it a weasel … er … Budget. 😐

        Reply
        • PartisanZ

           /  May 2, 2018

          I don’t find “dogs breakfast” a very useful analogy … but to run with the wolves (so to speak) and extend it … they are dogs who have not been able to form a cohesive pack …

          The ‘wolves’, I would suggest, are just too powerful …

          Reply
        • Gezza

           /  May 2, 2018

          Can we at least agree to call the budget a weasel?

          Reply
          • PartisanZ

             /  May 2, 2018

            Not until the little varmint has scampered across my [pacifist] gunsights Gezza … No.

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  May 2, 2018

              Ok, but if Grant weasels out of any promises in it, it’s a weasel anyway.

            • PartisanZ

               /  May 3, 2018

              “Weasel” is a strong word, perhaps best reserved for John Key’s sly and duplicitous raising of GST? That might be the Right reference point?

              By comparison Grant may only be able to deliver a Ferret, Stoat or Feral Cat?

      • Zedd

         /  May 2, 2018

        I think the 5% was an arbitrary figure based on the German model, but they have a larger population & have doing MMP much longer…
        BUT it also looks like the ‘2 major parties’ are playing power games, by keeping it at 5%; it makes it very difficult for others (potential opponents) to even get in !! :/

        Reply
        • Zedd

           /  May 2, 2018

          BUT also many kiwis still seem to not understand that MMP is about giving a broader representation.. comments like ‘we though NZF were going with Natl’ sounds like a FPP attitude.

          It would be better IF the ‘centre right’ perhaps broke up or agreed to a lower threshold, that included a few smaller parties; ie TOP (?) & Conservatives to get in.. then they would have other potential ‘coalition partners’ to work with.. but ‘narrow minded FPP thinking’ seems to prevail with that lot, even 20+ years after it came in

          Reply
          • PartisanZ

             /  May 2, 2018

            “Seems to prevail …”

            You are kind Zedd. They’ve never got over losing FPP … and they REALLY want it back …

            Reply
            • Zedd

               /  May 2, 2018

              too bloody right.. I tend to think FPP actually typifies the right-wings, way of thinking.. winner take all & to hell with the losers !

              “I want my $99,999.99 & I wont take a cent less !!”
              even if it should be rounded down to $99,999.95.. 😀

            • PartisanZ

               /  May 2, 2018

              Yep, tends to make one think the human population might be divided more-or-less in half along the lines of “all or nothing, win or lose” and “we all do well when we all do well” …?

            • Zedd

               /  May 3, 2018

              @PZ
              There is only one race the human race, but there are definitley at least 2 groups; ‘the haves’ & ‘the rest/have nots’.. a hangover from the ‘master/servant’ days. methinks some still prefer this sort of society ?!

              “Mind the GAP folks” 😦

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