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.