Cannabis misinformation, fake social media accounts, foreign donations, and sign language interpreters at polling booths are just some of the Election 2020 issues you can tell Parliament about.
Every three years voters are asked to choose a party and a person they think will best represent their political interests while running the country.
After an election, Parliament launches an inquiry into how it all went and now it’s asking for people to send in their views on the 2020 General Election and referendums by midnight April 6.
Those views, called submissions, will go to the Justice Select Committee - a group of nine MPs from different parties which will read the submissions, hear from some people in person, and then write a report with some recommended changes for the next election.
Being an expert on electoral law or process isn’t necessary, said the Justice Committee chair Labour MP Ginny Andersen.
“We’re just interested in general thoughts,” she said. “You can have a highly knowledgeable expert in a particular field and you can have someone’s view from how they’ve experienced it and both can be just as valuable.”
“Sometimes those honest and very to-the-point comments are far more insightful than those of high level experts.”
“It’s a really useful way for people who voted, people who are involved in that process, to have a direct say to Parliamentarians about how we can improve what we’re doing.”
The last inquiry into Election 2017 covered topics like astroturfing where social media campaigns appear to be grassroots comments from the public but are actually orchestrated campaigns.
It also had recommendations on increasing funding for captioning candidates’ and parties’ videos and allowing people to switch more quickly between the Māori and general electoral roll (currently linked to the census every 5 to 6 years).
Submissions can be made on any issue related to the General Election (as long as it's something Parliament can do) but there are four areas of particular interest to the Justice Committee: resilience, the integrity and security of the electoral system, advance voting, and the accessibility of the voting system.
How well does the electoral system stand up when there’s a civil emergency with a particular focus on Covid-19?
The looming threat of changes in Covid-19 alert levels resulted in the Electoral Commission working with the Ministry of Health in case voting had to take place under alert level 2.
This included putting more booths around the country, encouraging early enrolment and advanced voting, and advising people bring their own pens.
Andersen said the Committee is interested in hearing people’s thoughts on how the electoral system fared in a Covid-19 environment. What did it do well and what could it do better?
Integrity and security
With a particular focus on technology and social media.
The increased use of social media for campaigns is not new to the most recent election but the Committee is interested in how it can adapt to deal with emerging issues.
This includes deepfake technology, concerns over transparency around who is sponsoring a message, and the spread of misinformation.
Andersen said the committee is interested in “the internet and social media and how those sorts of interactions are affecting democracy.”
Should the rules around advertising in the weeks leading up to the election change?
The number of people voting in advance has been on the rise in recent elections but particularly with Election 2020 as people were encouraged to vote early in an attempt to reduce crowds and the potential spread of Covid-19 on election day.
With advanced voting comes questions around advertising regulations such as the amount a candidate, party or third party can spend on advertising in the lead up to an election.
The Committee wants to know whether the rules around this regulated period should be revised.
Is enough being done for people with disabilities or people for whom English isn’t their first language when it comes to voting?
This area focuses on the accessibility of the voting system for people with disabilities and New Zealand’s growing ethnic communities whose first language may not be English.
The Election 2017 Inquiry report recommended the Government think about adopting fully automated touchtone telephone voting services or secure video interpreter services at polling booths.
Submissions can also point out whether information around voting or at polling places is clear or easy to understand for people who don't speak English as a first language.
The number of young people turning out to vote last election increased by 18.8 percent compared to election 2017 but encouraging young people to enrol and to vote remains a concern for the Committee.
Andersen said research shows the people who vote in the first election that they’re eligible for, tend to keep voting in subsequent elections.
“That’s a good thing for democracy and a good thing for New Zealand,” she said.
“So getting feedback from young people about how we can better engage them is beneficial not just for reviewing the election but also Parliament and how we operate to make sure we’re open, transparent and available for people to have a look at what we do.”
Enrol to vote here.
Changing electoral rolls
Eligible voters in New Zealand enrol to be on a list and there are two to choose from: the General roll and the Māori roll.
The roll a voter is on affects who they can choose as their local (electorate) MP. Voters of Māori descent can choose which roll to be on.
Those on the Māori roll vote for a candidate for a Māori electorate while those on the general roll vote for a general candidate. The number of Māori electorates is seven and is determined using results from the Māori electoral option and the census.
The option to change rolls is tied to the census which usually takes place every five years (the next Māori electoral option is scheduled for 2024).
Andersen said the Labour Party’s Māori caucus pointed out a discussion around the period of time that people can change between rolls should be a part of the Inquiry.
“I think that’s an important discussion to have so we can have some feedback on what’s an appropriate amount of time to change rolls if you wish to.”
Submitting: you won’t always get what you want
Submissions can take a bit of courage and effort to prepare and a good Committee will recognise that work.
The usual process is for people to send in a written submission first through Parliament’s website. All submissions are published publicly and they have to be about something Parliament is able to do.
There’s also an option to say whether or not you’d like to appear before the Committee (this happens either in person, over the phone, or by videoconference). Not everyone is invited to appear before a committee.
The usual process for those that do appear is to assume the MPs have read their submission. They’ll be given some time to speak generally about their submission and then MPs can ask questions.
Andersen said it’s worth like-minded people putting in submissions either individually or together.
“If there are five or six or 20 submissions that are generally commenting on the same point we tend to cluster those together so when we’re reporting back to the House that forms a main point,” she said.
She said it doesn’t guarantee change but it can bring an issue to the attention of lawmakers.
“If there’s a deficiency in the law or there’s a problem in process, the more people that highlight that issue, the more likelihood that not just politicians but the officials who are instructed to assist in that process will more closely scrutinise where that problem lies,” she said.
“If we’re in agreement that it does need to change, then it will.”
Parliament buildings, processes and even the language can appear foreign to most people but Andersen said people shouldn’t be afraid to come and speak to a committee.
“Parliament is your place and it’s your opportunity to have your say on the laws that affect your life every single day. You have a right to be here so you shouldn’t be feeling afraid and if anyone does then that’s not right.
“I think it’s really important that people make use of the ability to come and speak to politicians more.”
The Justice Committee is aiming to have its report out by the end of the year.
“If there are things we can learn about how we can do it better it would be good to have those in place by the next election, “ said Andersen.
Submissions are due midnight April 6 and can be made through Parliament's website.