Referendum vote count undemocratic

Written By: - Date published: 1:15 pm, June 8th, 2010 - 34 comments
Categories: democratic participation, electoral systems, MMP - Tags:

The way the votes will be counted in the Government’s MMP Referendum Bill is highly unusual and in my view undemocratic. There will not be any independent scrutiny on election day of the votes cast or spoiled in the referendum. Independent scrutiny of the ballot in my view is essential to retaining confidence in the democratic process. It has been so in all our elections for many many years.

Unlike  what was provided for in the 1993 Referendum Act, provision for scrutineers to observe the vote count is expressly removed from this Bill by excluding the relevant sections of the Electoral Act. Nor will the voter’s page and line numbers be recorded on the referendum ballots. In the proposed Bill, the referendum ballot papers will simply be separated and forwarded to the Returning Officer in each electorate who will count them later  in the presence of a Justice of the Peace. The only thing we will know on election night is the result of the pre-election day count.

I have counted many ballots in my lifetime, but never without a scrutineer. I’ve scrutineered a number too, and know how important it is when the votes are close or the result is significant.

Also the way the Bill reads there will be no record of the votes cast in each polling booth. The votes are simply bundled up an delivered to the Returning officer. Mistakes can happen, even in New Zealand – remember on election day in 1999 120 votes disappeared without trace in Rangitikei, more than Simon Power’s election day majority.

At least  the vote for or against MMP should be counted in the booths on election day and scrutineered along with the election ballot. The integrity of the ballot process is crucially important for confidence in  our democracy.

34 comments on “Referendum vote count undemocratic”

  1. kaplan 1

    This government has turned subverting democracy into an art form.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      I wouldn’t call it an art form – I’d call it what it is. Psychopathic and dictatorial.

      • Bored 1.1.1

        Actually its not even that, what it consists is a complete contempt for the democratic process. Democracy is as they say a fragile creature….NACT intend its extinction.

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    Nor will the voter’s page and line numbers be recorded on the referendum ballots.

    Which opens up all sorts of possibilities for fixing the vote as there would be no way to tell if the ballot paper belonged to an actual person. Throw that in with the removal of independent scrutiny and there’s no way that the populace would be able to tell if the vote had been fixed or not. There would be no way that we could trust the vote so, yeah, completely undemocratic.

    • ianmac 2.1

      And if the vote was close there would be for the first time in NZ, the distrust of the outcome especially if it was a close decision. Fertile ground for discontent!

  3. already in my submission – let’s hope someone listens!

    EDIT: however, I do note that the Bill requires the vote count in each electorate to be conducted in the presence of a JP. Also missing – the right to ask for a recount.

  4. ianmac 4

    As a frequent polling officer I would be appalled if there was no provision for scrutineers in a referendum! Why not account for the numbers cast in each booth? In assembling the tallys it would cost very little time. Conspiracy theorists?

    • Roger 4.1

      “Conspiracy theorists?”

      Rather easy isn’t it, there is no legitimate reason for excluding scrutineers and i would think that deciding on electoral process would hold the importance required for maximum scrutiny. Where are the champions of democracy that stood against the EFA or the smacking protesters when there is an actual threat to democracy. They seem quite vocal in the face of perceived ones.

      Anti-spam: failure: by the msm for not even addressing this.

      • Where are the champions of democracy that stood against the EFA or the smacking protesters when there is an actual threat to democracy.

        Writing submissions?

        The thing with the EFA (and smacking) was that the politicians weren’t listening. I’ve every hope that they will in respect of this.

        • Ari

          I’m not sure where you get the idea that it’s even likely that the Government will have any inclination to listen to suggestions that make this referendum more democratic.

          • Graeme Edgeler

            Their attitude to the referendum thus far, which has been exemplary.

            I will be exceedingly surprised if they continue to disallow scrutineers.

    • There will be scrutineers during the voting (because it’s conducted at the same time as the general election). There just won’t be scrutineers (other than the JPs) during the count.

      • Ari 4.2.1

        Not having scrutineers during the count makes the election much more vulnerable to the insertion of fake votes.

  5. Lanthanide 5

    Ok, so what is a reasonable reason for why they would want to take these guys out of the loop? Reduced costs? Any idea how much the cost might be reduced by? Probably not significantly enough to make this a worthwhile cost-saving, but still the question needs to be asked.

  6. Lazy Susan 6

    On the face of it this looks like we should be concerned about this.

    In the 1999 General Election there were also two Citizens Initiated Referendum on the number of MPs and a reform of the criminal justice system. Does anyone know how these were managed/scrutineered?

    • As it was conducted at the same time as the general election, scrutineers from candidates/parties will have been present throughout. The votes were counted on polling day so party and candidate scrutineers will also have been present during the count.

      It was the experience at that election (e.g. polling booth delays, delays in getting the vote announced, voter confusion, etc.) that led to changes (e.g. later CIR conducted by postal ballot, amendments to the Electoral Act requiring general election votes to be counted first), and ultimately, to the changes here. The $540,000 I mention above is the Chief Electoral Office’s estimate of the additional funding needed to be able to run the two fully simultaneously while avoiding the problems experienced in 1999.

      • Lazy Susan 6.1.1

        Thanks Graeme.

        So the $540,000 is an estimate of the additonal cost to run the “two fully simultaneously” and get the results of both ballots out as quickly as a normal election without a referendum

        I presume that cost would likely be less if the election votes were to be counted first and the MMP result came later?

        • Graeme Edgeler

          No. That was me using shorthand.

          That’s the estimated extra cost of counting all the votes on election night. They would count the general election results first, and then count the referendum votes (which is what the Electoral Act requires).

          • Lazy Susan

            Seems a pitifully small amount of money to save when it throws the whole democratic process into doubt. This is surely a bad call. Maybe Paul Reynolds could donate his tax cut and we’ve almost got it covered?!

      • Draco T Bastard 6.1.2

        So, what you’re saying is that the $540,000 doesn’t actually relate to the costs of scrutineers at all. Thanks for clearing that up.

        • Graeme Edgeler

          No – I can’t see allowing scrutineers would cost anything.

          • Lazy Susan

            So there doesn’t even seem to be a cost justification for not having them? What then is the justification for making the procees less robust?

            • Graeme Edgeler

              There hasn’t been one offered. I suspect there isn’t one, and that it wasn’t thought deeply about, and when it’s pointed out it (at the very least) will be changed.

  7. tc 7

    From the people who brought you eCan, supershity and the election promised overhaul/repeal of S59/EFA/F&S comes more of the same……bend over NZ here comes a return to FPP or something as effective without the title so the nat’s can rule you like Muldoon did with the same impact for NZ……leaving us a basket case when they’re finally turfed out like piggy did.

    Meantime the msm sits patiently waiting for another chopper ride with the PM and some dressups as well….oohhh you look good in camo gear fellow TV reporter……thanks mate care to look at our ‘questions’ from the PM’s press secretary…….nah no need they’re the same as last ones.

  8. Rex Widerstrom 8

    Electronic voting (and no I don’t mean Diebold machines, I mean online, the way most of do our banking) could allow tracking of votes cast by the individual who cast them. So you could randomly check that a vote was recorded against your ID number – a number known only to you and to the system, much like your bank PIN.

    Counts would be almost instantaneous, but there could be a period before they were made official which would allow the checking process to take place.

    The chance of enough people finding no vote – or the wrong vote – recorded against their ID ought to be enough to deter any malarkey. Thus we save the $540,000 Graeme estimates the scrutineers are worth, while empowering the entire population to act as scrutineer of their own vote.

    • Lanthanide 8.1

      “Thus we save the $540,000 Graeme estimates the scrutineers are worth, while empowering the entire population to act as scrutineer of their own vote.”

      And incur $$$$ setting the whole scheme up.

      I remember reading about another country in the world that was moving to online voting, but can’t remember which one. Anyway, this is not yet a wide-spread practice, presumably because there are many non-obvious problems with it that need to be worked out.

      One obvious one is that people can easily be threatened or blocked access from voting, or have their vote cast for them by someone else in the family – easy solution is to have polling places as we currently do, but then you’re not saving money on the staff at the polling places. Also vote-buying is much easier if you don’t have to front up to a polling place, just input a number in the privacy of your own home (go down to a low-income suburb and offer $50 for voter IDs…)

      captcha: officers

      • Draco T Bastard 8.1.1

        One obvious one is that people can easily be threatened or blocked access from voting,

        And how would it be possible to block people going down to an internet cafe or the library to stop them from voting?

        or have their vote cast for them by someone else in the family

        Um, people shouldn’t be telling their families their passwords or sharing their authenticator (I figure if one can be available for a game then they can be available for voting).

        Vote buying would be a little bit more difficult to police but still possible to pick up and neutralise.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.2

      You mean like this?

  9. captcha : scrap (pieces of paper is what we should really be scrapping)

    Agree it’s about time we switched to conducting elections/referenda on-line using secure, verifiable log ins…

    …or at the very least, looked at the problems, solutions and developed a working model.

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