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.
* 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.