16 Oct 2023

Electoral law expert: Post election limbo and special votes

From Checkpoint, 5:24 pm on 16 October 2023

An expert in electoral law says New Zealand's easy and open voting system means there has to be very thorough checks, ultimately extending the time before a final count.

The final result from Saturday's election won't be known until 3 November after the Electoral Commission has counted more than half a million special votes or just over 20.2 percent of total votes.

Wellington Barrister and expert in electoral law Graeme Edgeler told Checkpoint New Zealand was unusual in allowing people to vote anywhere in the country.

"In very few countries are you allowed to vote in any voting place in the entire country, certainly not in the UK or Canada.

"In lots of those places you're told, this is the one voting place you can vote, [for example] your local library, that's the only place you can go."

Edgeler said when people cast votes from anywhere they wanted or enrolled on the day, it took time to carry out thorough checks.

Checks involved going to Births, Deaths and Marriages to make sure someone was a real person or if they were immigrants, checking that they had the right to vote, Edgeler said.

"All of those checks need to happen before we can start counting the votes for the official count."

Edgeler said the commission also had to go through every copy of the electoral rolls used at voting places to make sure people's names were crossed off properly.

If there was reason to believe that a person had voted twice then the commission would investigate.

"If they think someone may have voted on your behalf, the police can get involved at some point to do the investigation because it is illegal," he said.

Edgeler also told Checkpoint he thought New Zealand's current system that meant Port Waikato had to go through a by-election in November should be changed.

The by-election was caused by the death of the ACT candidate Neil Christensen, and will create an extra seat this Parliamentary term.

Nominations for the by-election close on 20 October, with overseas voting starting on 8 November, advanced voting on 13 November, and the by-election itself on 25 November.

Voters in Port Waikato were still able to cast a party vote for Saturday's election.

But Edgeler said this system was copied and pasted from New Zealand's previous electoral system First-Past-the-Post.

"When we moved from First-Past-the-Post to MMP we copied over a lot of the rules we had and that was one that we copied over, I think without really thinking about it."

Edgeler said realistically, he did not think the ACT candidate believed he would have won the seat, given that it was generally considered a safe blue seat.

"Do we really need that vote given that now we're under MMP and what really matters is the party vote? I've suggested for a number of reviews for elections that we don't."