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Polity: Electoral roll data

Written By: - Date published: 2:12 pm, April 16th, 2015 - 4 comments
Categories: activism, electoral commission, Politics - Tags: , ,

polity_square_for_lynnReposted from Polity.

Emma Hart at Public Address has a great post covering the Electoral Commission’s review of the 2014 election. In the Commission’s report, it expressed a concern about what is currently happening to hard-copy electoral rolls that are being purchased:

If rolls and habitation indexes can be inspected and purchased, it is impossible to ensure that they are not being used for ancillary purposes. Patterns of purchase indicate that rolls are rarely being used for scrutiny purposes.

It makes suggestions about who should and should not have access to electoral roll data:

The Commission recommends that electoral rolls (and habitation indexes) no longer be available for general sale, that the inspection of rolls should be limited to offices of the Commission, and that house/flat/apartment number and occupation information should no longer be included in rolls available for inspection.

This solution does two good things, and one regrettable thing. First, it would pretty much rule out misuse of the rolls for debt collection / product marketing purposes. Good – that isn’t what the electoral roll is for.

Second, if I’m reading it right, it would protect the right of parties and candidates to access electronic copies of the roll for the purposes of election campaigning and electoral scrutiny. Good – if that right gets taken away from all parties, it would serve to massively advantage those parties with the giant bankroll needed to purchase lists of names and addresses privately, skewing elections in their favour.

The regrettable part is that this solution would perpetuate the current double standard where it is OK to run a civic participation campaign using roll information if out are also standing in the election, but not if you are a non-partisan, pro-turnout group. That the Commission is recommending continuing with this double standard is pretty ironic1, given that elsewhere the Commission is out there encouraging civic society to help encourage people to vote.

For my part, I think you can achieve what the Commission wants without the double standard. Here’s how:

  1. By all means, stop selling hard copies of the roll
  2. Continue current practice of allowing supervised inspection of rolls, pre- and post-election, to aid with scrutiny of elections.
  3. Allow electronic distribution of the roll to parties and candidates, and also to other groups that can satisfy the Commission that they will use the data only for a genuine civic purpose. (Note here that the Commission gets discretion over who gets access.)
  4. Apply the current (stiff) penalties for political party misuse of roll data to other groups as well.

That solution gets rid of roll use for debt-collection, maintains political party access, but also removes the unfair advantage political parties have over other genuine participants in the electoral process.


  1. Actually ironic, not Alanis-ironic

4 comments on “Polity: Electoral roll data ”

  1. Atiawa 1

    Goodness there is so much to contemplate, especially Emma’s graph on voter turnout.
    I gave my support to proportional representation because mistakenly I believed more people would involve themselves in democracy and the political process. In fact fewer people are either interested and/or involved compared to the fpp era. Maybe now we are hearing too many voices.

    • dukeofurl 1.1

      The other reason is that a well known effect of “dirty Politics” is to drive down voter participation from mildly interested people.

    • saveNZ 1.2

      @Atiawa it is not FPP it is the dirty politics, agree with Dukeoful that DP is used to drive voter participation down.

      Low voter participation advantages the right wing agenda.

      • Atiawa 1.2.1

        Dirty politics has played it’s part, but that would be to over simplify a much broader array of reasons for a decreasing number of eligible voters non participation. For example the 4th Labour governments directional change under David Lange’s stewardship was an equally, albeit overtly, arrogant form of “dirty politic’s”, and although the demographic less likely to participate in our current democracy were probably “twinkle’s” in their parents eye’s during that time, we should not under-estimate the cries of betrayal from those who were severely affected by it and the flow on effect to their children.
        All I’m saying though is if proportional representation is the answer, what was the question?

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