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No mystery over Waitakere votes

Written By: - Date published: 10:49 am, December 20th, 2011 - 48 comments
Categories: elections - Tags:

There was some pretty low-grade reporting on the Waitakere race that suggested some kind of organised voter fraud may have taken place. Under the title Questions over Waitakere vote, the Herald reporter said 9 dual votes had been found and 393 special votes had been cast by people not enrolled to vote. But that’s not evidence of foul play: it’s par for the course.

Being registered to vote in New Zealand is compulsory but about 5% of people aren’t registered. Most of these people are pretty disconnected from the political sphere. Some genuinely don’t know that they need to be registered before voting.

When a person shows up on election day wanting to vote but doesn’t appear in the printed electoral roll, they are given a special vote to complete because a) they might have enrolled after the printed rolls were printed or b) they might be registered in a different electorate (your party vote still counts if you vote in the wrong electorate like this, but not your candidate vote – 25,520 people did that in 2008).

After election day, the validity of every single one of the quarter of a million special votes is checked (what did you think they were doing for two weeks between the preliminary and final count?). There are technical requirements (it has to be witnessed, signed by the voter etc) and the voter has to appear on some electorate’s roll. In 2008, 16,396 special votes (6.6%) were disallowed because the voter was not on any roll. So, 393 instances in Waitakere is nothing surprising. In fact, 329 people did the same thing in Waitakere in 2008.

This isn’t fraud, it’s individuals who screwed up by not being enrolled – usually young people recently turned 18 and immigrants who don’t know the system. Trying to get people who are not enrolled to cast votes would be a pointless attempt at voter fraud because no vote from someone who isn’t enrolled is ever going to be counted.

As for dual voting, well that happens too – 55 times just involving special votes in 2008. It occurs for two innocent reasons: old people who forget that they’ve already voted early when electoral staff visit rest homes before polling day and are then taken to the polling place by their families on election day, and polling staff crossing out the wrong line when they mark off a vote in the electoral roll.

Every instance of apparent double voting discovered, by the simple act of physically compiling all the polling booths’ rolls and the special votes roll into a master roll and looking for double-ups (again, why it takes two weeks to get the final count), is investigated. Returning Officers must undertake some amateur sleuthing to discover whether the apparent double vote was a clerical error (For instance, the rolls may show Arthur B Wilson voting once at the same place as a woman with the same surname and address – most couples vote together – and then, apparently, again at a different polling place, the same polling place as the wife of Arthur S Wilson voted, and there is no record of Arthur S Wilson voting anywhere – a couple of phone calls will confirm that Arthur S voted with his wife). If no clerical explanation can be found then, by law, the dual votes must be removed* and reported to the Police, who investigate. Very rarely do they prosecute.

No-one seeking to commit voter fraud would get 9 of their mates to vote twice because a) dual votes get caught and both their votes removed so it would be counter-productive and b) who would ever imagine that 9 votes would matter either way in an election?

If the Herald’s reporter had bothered to ring someone who knew, like the Electoral Commission or, presumably, one of her senior colleagues, an embarrassingly ill-informed and misleading piece need not have appeared in the Herald, which has led a number of people to erroneously think there was an organised attempt to steal an election in Waitakere. And it wouldn’t have given an excuse for people who know better take advantage of the public’s ignorance and smear the Labour candidate.

Richard D

* It’s a little known fact that your vote is traceable. Ballots have serial numbers on them, covered by black stickers, with matching numbers on the ballot stub. When you get your vote, the page and line number of your name in the roll is recorded on the stub. It’s a tedious process but dual votes can be found and removed from the count.

updated: Fixed changed duel to dual.

48 comments on “No mystery over Waitakere votes”

  1. Adrian 1

    Why are the rolls not on line, all most everything else is? It is the easiest way to check if one is or is not enrolled. Even if there are privacy or other concerns, i.e fraud ( though I can’t see how), why can’t the complete database be accessed only by the polling booth manager or workers , it would save a huge amount of time and half a forest in paper rolls.

    • Colonial Viper 1.1

      Sometimes slowing down the system, although somewhat inconvenient, makes it better not worse.

    • Carol 1.2

      Makes it harder for spammers etc to use the electoral roll if it’s not online. I prefer it that way.

      • Colonial Viper 1.2.1

        Also on e-day, paper rolls do not suffer from:

        – hard disk failures
        – internet connection failures
        – power failures
        – database failures
        – server failures
        – overloading

        As a society we need to start thinking power down, resiliency and redundancy, not increasing interlinking systems complexity.

        • lprent

          Same reason that I have always resisted trying to do page and line numbers at the booths using 3G phones. Church halls are a bit short on power points.

        • aerobubble

          Given the practice of targetting voter groups by the right, putting some off voting, in very specific areas that skew the whole election. Why would we want a system that can dynamically hack voter intent as the election proceeds? Some accessing a paper ballot needs to rub out and remark every ballot, all a esystem needs is to flip a bit.

        • PW

          I’m always a fan of paper-based voting systems for the elections that really matter. They are simple, and everyone can understand them. There is a degree of transparency and reliability in paper that you just can’t get with anything digital.

          There is also another aspect – paper systems require a lot of people to organise and maintain them, but I see that as an investment in democracy. All of those people, whether employed full time, or just on the day with their special tax code, will go on to tell others about their time behind the polls, and thus build confidence in the most important institution we have.

          Nothing is really going to stop a paper system after it starts on polling day, but a single (and as yet, undetermined) failure at Huntly could give us all black screens on those new fancy voting computers.

      • Vicky32 1.2.2

        I prefer it that way.

        As do I!

    • insider 1.3

      It’s also against the law to photocopy them and use them for commercial purposes. The exception is that MPs get electronic rolls which they can use to generate mailing lists.

      • lprent 1.3.1

        And phone canvassing, door canvass, analysing the electorate(s), etc… Who just does snail mail with them?

        So old school, relatively ineffective, and dependent on finding money for the postage out of limited campaign budgets.

        But the actual purpose is so that MP’s can check the roll.

    • lprent 1.4

      It is the easiest way to check if one is or is not enrolled.

      They are for that. https://secure.elections.org.nz/app/enrol/

      There are bugger all power points in most polling places, and frequently there isn’t any data access even with 3G. Even in Auckland, I swear that they site schools halls and churches in cell shadows.

      • McFlock 1.4.1

        Even in Auckland, I swear that they site schools halls and churches in cell shadows

        Well, I seem to recall a number of complaints about cell towers being within a stone’s throw of kiddies.
        Not commenting on the validity of complaints, just pointing out a possible cause of the coverage issues.

  2. Uturn 2

    Duel votes hold a certain fascination, don’t you think? Permanent markers at fifty paces. The first to scribble a vote on their opponent’s face wins.

  3. Draco T Bastard 3

    It’s a little known fact that your vote is traceable.

    That’s because they need to be. If they weren’t then anyone could vote and voter fraud would be rampant. It was my realisation of this several years ago that allowed me to realise that online voting could be just as secure as the traditional paper trail.

    • insider 3.1

      I think turning up and physically having to vote is a nice discipline on the election process that probably reduces attempts at fraud. I know it is not really an issue in NZ, but I suspect there would be a higher level of attempted fraud the more remote the voting becomes. It’s sort of a Caesar’s Wife thing to me. I also like the ritual of taking the children – provides the opportunity for a mini civics lesson and complements their school work, as they tend to study elections at election time.

  4. Ant 4

    Wish we did have duel voting though, could be interesting.

  5. Enzo 5

    Another all too common innocent reason dual voting exists is when someone faxes off an overseas vote and mistakenly thinks it hasn’t gone through so faxes it again to be certain – unfortunately this voids both votes.

    • Lanthanide 5.1

      This seems so terribly obvious that I wonder why the electoral commission don’t have a specific process in place.

      So the first time you fax it, you just fax as-is. The second (or third) times you add some special note to the fax to indicate that it is a backup vote incase of transmission failure. They’d receive both votes, but as long as the votes were identical, they’d simply discard the backup vote and count the first one.

  6. Akldnut 6

    The permanent marker needs to be changed, they’re useless.

  7. Craig Glen Eden 7

    Bennett needs to be challenged about her statements to about illegal activity. The allegations of illegality she made and then examples given of legal activity are quite shocking surely both her and her spokes people know that its legal to door knock on election day for the purposes of mobilizing vote as opposed to influencing vote. I suspect however National don’t have the Party numbers to man such an activity on election day. Personally I am sick of Bennett’s blatant hypocrisy given her breach of a certain womans privacy for her own political advantage.

    • Fotran 7.1

      Am waiting for Labour to mount a challenge against Bennett. To do so is expensive – last one in Tauranga by Winston cost $200,000. Huo is a Chinese supporter money getter for Labour who now returns to Parliament. Sorry but Sepuloni will have to return to her union job for now and seek reselection in 2014.

    • Anne 7.2

      …surely both her and her spokes people know that its legal to door knock on election day for the purposes of mobilizing vote…

      Probably not. You’ve got to remember your average run of the mill Nat. isn’t all that bright (cunning yes, but not bright) and when their MP is no better, then ignorance rules the day.

  8. Matthew Hooton 8

    It is certainly par for the course in an election in which Labour has a candidate and Mike Williams is an electorate official

    • Craig Glen Eden 8.1

      What is par for the coarse Matthew?

    • Yes please answer Craig’s question and can you advise what position Mike Williams holds?

      • Anne 8.2.1

        I don’t think Mike Williams is on Matty’s Xmas card list any more. He bested Matty on Radio NZ’s Monday political spot during the campaign. I seem to recall MH getting quite upset about it on one occasion. 🙂

        • ghostwhowalksnz

          Hooton doesnt get upset , its his plan B when he looses the argument

          • Anne

            You’re right gwwnz, but MH definitely momentarily lost the plot. I could just hear some muffled giggling which had to be coming from Mike Williams. It was an enjoyable moment.

      • ghostwhowalksnz 8.2.2

        Labours official scrutineer at the Waitakere recount

    • rustle19 8.3

      ah, Matthew having another dig at Mike Williams, happens on their Nine to Noon radio slots as well

  9. Ross Miller 9

    So then, how the f**k did you guys loose?

    • chris73 9.1

      The voters wanted Bennett, which is a concept those on the left are having trouble coming to terms with.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 9.2

      Lose ?

      Its hardly a smashing victory when National + friends is -5 seats down from last time.

      Its MMP stupid.

    • jingyang 9.3

      They didn’t “loose” at all.

    • fender 9.4

      Those with a screw loose would have voted Bennett.
      It’s a pity that Sepuloni only just managed to lose. But she will be back in 2014 hopefully, and by then the “loose” in Waitakere will be kicking themselves for their 2011 mistake.

    • bbfloyd 9.5

      who lost?……… bennett…… an area ripe for becoming a tory stronghold was nearly given up….. bennet now has to carry the taint of having disaffection and disgust with her ministries behavior lose her whole majority… waitakerie is now a marginal seat…….if she wasn’t just an overinflated nothing with a taste for persecution the seat would now be regarded as a safe one for national….

      WOO WOO!!!! PAULA WON!!!!…….yea right……

      • Mark 9.5.1

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but the fact that Waitakere is now marginal should be credit to the Nats, because isn’t Paula the first Nat to hold the seat? Waitakere should be a safe Labour seat, and my suspicion is that in 2014, Labour will win it, not because Carmel is better but because of the probable swing to them.

  10. jingyang 10

    If Labour want to set up a fund for their electoral petition, I’ll quite cheerfully donate to it if it means there is a chance of Paula Bennett getting another smackdown. I can’t stand the woman.

    She’s just another example of a woman being used by the Nats’ clique of wealthy white men as a catspaw for regressive social policies that end up hurting women possibly more than they hurt men. Shipley, Richardson, Tolley; National have a history…

  11. gingercrush 11


    Graham Edgeler has a link to the judicial outcome of Waitakere if anyone is interested. Quite a good read.

  12. james111 12

    Seeems rather strange that all of the Dual Voters voted for one party and not the other is that an Education problem!

    • bbfloyd 12.1

      no… it’s a perception problem on your part…… as in open both eyes and ears and listen to yourself for once… maybe the bigoted reactionary drivel will dry up once and for all…(or until you have exceeded your attention span.)…

    • ghostwhowalksnz 12.2

      Not true, one of the dual voters used the internet to download and the mail in a special vote. They didnt open the envelope , as was the case for all disallowed special votes. No one knows who they voted for

  13. rustle19 13

    interesting well informed piece Richard. Sooner or later voting will need to drag itself away from draughty community halls and pen and paper and enter the internet age, provided security concerns are addressed. Would no doubt increase participation by the young. Could have a dual system, vote online or vote in person.
    Interesting how advance voting has become so popular, and normal, all for the good.
    Also it seems that the Electoral Commission has done an excellent job, is anyone going to congratulate them. Clearly their Russian counterpart can take some lessons.

    And speaking of old ways of doing things, anyone watching the opening of Parliament must have wondered what the hell were three judges doing there, adorned with robes and wigs talking like something out of the 17thC . And there goes Lockwood Smith recalling some Speaker from Charles I time. Is this Aotearoa in 2012. Hone has the right idea.

  14. Grant 14

    Special elections are a funny old thing.

    The nz herald article mentions that a fair number of special votes were rejected due to marks that weren’t ticks, but were in the correct box.

    “Auckland lawyer Peter Kiely was recount scrutineer for the National Party
    and said some changes came about because votes allowed on election night might have had a mark in the box rather than a tick.”

    So they only allow ticks? is this widely known and why is the voters clear intend disallowed?
    As long as a mark is in the confines of the box for the candidate, then it should be allowed. If not, then the rule needs to be changed. It isn’t something that is reinforced in voters minds constantly now is it?

    Also polling stations should post the count visible to all on a board, and this can then have pics taken and send to media and online.

    Exit ballots should also be employed.

    The reason more steps need to be taken is places like corromandel is a close National / Greens electorate that the Greens can’t afford to lose.

    Common election mistakes need to be spelled out verbally and on paper to allow as many votes to be counted as possible. More could be done.

    Better physical controls to stop double marking then disqualification of ballots.

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