Red Alert

Archive for the ‘Electoral Law Reform’ Category

Electronic voting

Posted by on August 15th, 2011

In my speech on the Electoral Administration Bill last Thursday I said that I thought it was time we had a debate about electronic voting. That sparked quite a lot of feedback via Twitter and Facebook, with No Right Turn and Kiwiblog also posting their opposition and support on their blogs. I thought I’d set out my thoughts in a bit more detail here.

The first thing to clarify is that I don’t think we should rush into this. A move to electronic voting will need to be robustly debated, the pros and cons carefully weighed, and if we do decide to proceed, great care will need to be taken to ensure we avoid the pitfalls experienced in many overseas jurisdictions.

But there are a lot of potential benefits to electronic voting that we can’t ignore. A large percentage of those who are eligible to vote but don’t are young people. Electronic voting is likely to appeal to them quite a lot (the Bill we passed last week allows people to enroll to vote and update their enrollment details online, a very welcome step).

Electronic voting also has the potential to improve participation amongst those with disabilities. Blind people can’t complete a secret ballot under current arrangements, and those less mobile also rely on others to ensure they can do their democratic duty. Those temporarily overseas or out of their electorates may also be more inclined to vote if they could do so online.

The downsides and risks are considerable. If an electronic voting system was used it would need to be auditable and recountable. It’s hard to go past paper ballots on both of those counts. The system would also need to be very simple so that voter intention is clearly respected (ie. your vote goes to the candidate or party you think you’re voting for).

I’m no IT expert, but I do all my banking online, do a lot of shopping online, and interact with most of my friends online. Security has improved remarkably in recent years. I’d be surprised if we couldn’t design a robust, fair and transparent voting system using electronic means. Let’s have the debate. If it improves participation, why wouldn’t we?

Lusk, Farrar, Slater, Williams to run anti MMP campaign

Posted by on May 29th, 2011

A few weeks ago I ran a series of posts which outlined the role the shadowy Simon Lusk in National Party selections, the Brash Act leadership coup and indicated that he was chasing the lucrative anti MMP campaign.

I don’t think I’ve ever had as many National MPs thanking me – for letting them know how someone they trusted was in fact outsourced by Steven Joyce to do work in the coup to put Brash into Act. Many were not aware that he had a role in several selection campaigns some of which was sub contracted to Whaleoil.Many however suspected what polls now show, that Brash has significantly higher negatives than Hide and that women who supported Act would abandon the party. Interesting how Joyce has moved – with this, the Mediaworks scandal and the mess he has made by indemnifying Telecom for UFB losses – from hero to close to zero.

The Sunday Star Times today has part of the story:-

Those behind a campaign to shoot down MMP have killed before.

The right is getting ready to fire both barrels at MMP. A group of activists with links to National and Act are busy preparing a campaign against the electoral system. They are hardened politicos and some happen to share an interest in hunting, shooting and fishing. But it’s not clear if they’ll kill off MMP.

Campaigning on Election Day

Posted by on May 25th, 2011

For a long time New Zealand has had a very clear rule that prohibits campaigning on Election Day. All the signs have to be down by midnight the night before, no leaflets are allowed in letterboxes, and we’re not allowed to try and influence voters in any way on the day (although we are allowed to remind them it is Election Day and offer them assistance to get to/from the polling booth and so on).

There was an interesting little article in the Listener recently pointing out that during the recent Canadian elections, where the law prevents “premature transmission” of election results, anyone in the east, where polls close earlier, tweeting or facebooking about results, before the polls have closed in the west, is technically breaking the law and is liable to a $25,000 fine.

That lead me to wonder how enforceable our current laws prohibiting campaigning on election day are in the information age. Technically an ordinary member of the public tweeting on the day “I’ve just gone and voted to get rid of that idiot xxx” or “It’s Election Day. Get out there and vote for our future and vote xxx” is breaking the law. What about if someone comments on an MP or candidates Facebook page with something like “Good luck, hope everyone gets out there and votes for you”?

I like the fact that people are left alone on Election Day to vote at their leisure. I’d hate to see a situation where political parties were lined up along the streets on the day touting for votes. But I do wonder whether we need to re-think how we deal with online and social media. So what do you think? Are our laws out of date? How could they be changed?

Texts from Auckland

Posted by on May 10th, 2011

Txts from Banksy 1

Txts from Banksy 2

Txts from Banksy 3

In defence of democracy

Posted by on December 9th, 2010

Last night Parliament took away the right to vote from a group of New Zealanders. They are a group of people you might not have much time for, those serving prison sentences of three years or less. Some of them will have done some awful things, some of them will have done a large number of minor things, some of them might well be innocent. All of them will return to our communities one day.

I can understand that there will be many people who will say, ‘good job’, and many who did not realise that there were any prisoners who could vote. But I believe that Parliament taking away their right to vote (actually their right to be on the electoral roll) on the basis of a poorly thought out private members bill, passed by a narrow margain is in my view one of the most shameful things I have witnessed in this Parliament.

There is not much that is more fundamental in a democracy than the right to vote, and it was whisked away last night with barely a justification from the government. A government who that very day had announced a constitutional review that had at its heart the need to only make changes to electoral law if there is a good reason and if there is a consensus.

To me accepting the right to vote for people who challenge our values is one of the greatest tests of being truly committed to democracy. Eliminating that right for some people we consider not worthy, as glibly as was done by the government, is to me an assault on democratic values. As the Bill of Rights Act assessment on this bill notes overriding that right to vote (which itself is part of the Act) requires a high test to be passed. That has not happened here.

Beyond that, the Bill is a cruel hoax on the victims of crime and their families. Not one piece of evidence was provided to show that passing this Bill would stop crimes, or reduce re-offending. It will not make New Zealand a safer place. It will not help rehabilitation or re-integration into society. It creates massive inconsistencies (e.g. people convicted of the same crime, one on home detention, the other in prison will have different rights) and it nearly, accidentally, gave the right to vote to the most serious offenders through a drafting error, until Prof Andrew Geddis, pointed out the mistake.

I try not to lose my temper, in Parliament or in life. But last night I was close to it. (My speech is here) Parliament took away a fundamental right from a group of New Zealanders with barely a word in justification, without a word from the Justice Minister or the Attorney General in the debate. The majority was provided by the ACT Party who gave us a 48 second contribution. Democracy, and those who have fought for it here and overseas, deserve better than that.

Thoughts on the UK election

Posted by on May 8th, 2010

Like all political junkies I was fascinated by the UK election results as they rolled in yesterday. Most of my active involvement in politics in NZ has been under MMP (I first voted in 1996), so I always find FPP election results quite extraordinary.

Just think about the raw vote numbers in the UK as they currently stand. The Conservatives have 36.1% of the vote and 306 seats. Labour have 29% of the vote and 258 seats. The Liberal Democrats have a respectable 23% of the vote but only have 57 seats. Conservative Leader David Cameron argues he has a mandate to form a government despite only having just over a third of the vote.

Under a proportional system, the seat allocation would be more like Conservative 235, Labour 189, LibDem 149 (For the sake of simplicity I’ve only included the 3 big parties, of course in a truly proportional system the smaller parties would all get seats too).

Between them Labour and the LibDems have over half the vote. The LibDems are widely seen as being to the left of Labour, so how can the Conservatives claim they have the moral authority to move the country to the right?

Let’s translate this into a hypothetical NZ example. Let’s go back to 1996 and create result of say National 39%, Labour 35%, the Alliance 15% and ACT 4%. National would be bigger than Labour, but the combined Labour/Alliance vote would be 50% to National/ACT’s 44%. Could National claim they had a mandate to govern? I don’t think so.

It highlights for me how lucky we are to have a much fairer system in New Zealand. Everyone’s vote counts (unless you vote for a party that gets less than 5% support overall and doesn’t win an electorate seat).

Time to Have Your Say about the MMP Referendum

Posted by on April 4th, 2010

I have been appointed to the new select committee established to consider the Electoral Referendum Bill, which was recently introduced, but which hasn’t had its first reading yet.  It is called the Electoral Legislation Committee and it is chaired by Amy Adams, National Party, Selwyn.  I am the deputy chair.  There is a good blend of List MPs and constituency MPs and all parties are represented as follows:

  • Jim  Anderton, Progressive, Wigram
  • John  Boscawen, ACT New Zealand, List
  • Peter  Dunne, United Future, Ohariu
  • Pete  Hodgson, Labour Party, Dunedin North
  • Darren  Hughes, Labour Party, List
  • Rahui  Katene, Maori Party, Te Tai Tonga
  • Hekia Parata, National Party, List
  • Paul Quinn, National Party, List
  • Chris Tremain, National Party, Napier
  • Metiria Turei, Green Party, List

Now that the committee has been established the Electoral Referendum Bill will be referred to us and we will call for submissions. 

I cannot overstate the need for high quality submissions if we are going to get a quality result in terms of the referendum and the rules around third party funding.

Although this Bill covers the referendum, there is another bill that will go to an expanded Justice & Electoral Committee to consider the future electoral finance rules around third party advertising. 

This the point where the two bills coincide and which raises serious concerns about holding this referendum with the election – parallel campaigners will be allowed to advertise in the election campaign and in the referendum campaign ($12,000 threshold for registration).  But registration is where the limitation ends – from that point on these people or groups can spend what they like.

The Minister has said that the registration rules go further than the advertising rules in place for the 1992, 1993 and 1997 referendums, where there was no cap on spending, and no need to register with the Electoral Commission. All that was needed was a promoter statement.  But that was before the Exclusive Brethren showed us what unlimited spending could deliver. 

Some of you will recall the paper bag covered heads of the “list MPs” that featured in Peter Shirtcliff’s campaign – I am positive that he will be much more sophisticated this time. I also think we will see Crosby Textor enter into the campaign as well, and I am equally sure they will donate their time for zip, fully motivated to get rid of a system that does not produce strong, single party governments, that need not compromise anything for anyone.  “Unbridled Power” was a criticism of the system when coined by Geoffrey Palmer – National’s backers think of it as a dream-come-true.

I will post again once the call for submissions is made.  Make sure you are ready and make sure you read the Cabinet papers and the Regulatory Impact Statement for both bills.