Local elections: Thousands could be missing out on voting after confusion on residents' eligibility

12:32 pm on 30 September 2022
A sign points towards a polling place on Manners St in central Wellington

The Electoral Commission says anyone with specific questions about enrolment should contact them. File photo Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

There is concern that tens of thousands of people recently granted residency could miss out on voting in the local body elections.

At least 55,000 people granted a one-off residency visa are of voting age and are potentially qualified to vote, but some have been turned away amid confusion with the rules.

The government's 2021 Resident Visa scheme was announced in September last year, and more than 100,000 people have been approved for it to date.

Laura from central Auckland was granted residency in July after living in New Zealand for three years, and had been looking forward to voting in the local body elections.

But when she went to cast a special vote this week, she was turned away.

"I just didn't feel like there was an open conversation. It was very just like 'no, per our guidelines, you're not eligible'," she said.

Laura said she found out from the Green Party's social media page, that 2021 Resident Visa holders could vote, and she had since confirmed that she was eligible and had enrolled online.

But she was concerned the messaging was not clear and that many like her may have been turned away when they went to vote.

She believed more could have been done to inform new residents about their rights.

"I want to do the best that I can for the community, and so it would've been really cool to even be sent an email saying, 'hey, you've got residency, this is how you can help the city'," she said.

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Meanwhile, companies contracted by councils to run the elections were also confused.

Auckland electoral officer Dale Ofsoske said Laura's case had clarified the situation for the one-off resident visa holders.

"At that time, our staff were not aware that they were eligible to enrol and thus vote. Our staff have now been told that, since we've had that clarification from the Electoral Commission," Ofsoske said.

Another company contracted to run elections in several regions - Election NZ - said it also was not aware, until contacted by the Electoral Commission this week.

Auckland Council governance services manager Rose Leonard said she thought the council had done its best to inform migrant communities about voting, but added they would be looking into the issue next week.

The Electoral Commission told RNZ anyone who held a resident visa was eligible to vote, as long as they have lived in New Zealand for more than a year and meet other criterion.

Enrolment and community engagement acting manager Ross McPherson said guidelines passed onto councils and election providers were more general, and might not have covered whether specific resident visa categories were eligible.

Anyone with specific questions about enrolment should contact the commission, McPherson said.

Meanwhile, Green Party MP Ricardo Menéndez March said election services should have been clear on the eligibility criteria.

"While the 2021 Resident Visa may be new, the definition of resident that is used for the purposes of the eligibility to vote isn't, and so I would've expected for those services to be better aware of the definition of resident," he said.

It was shameful that people had been turned away, he said.

He was also calling for more proactive efforts to be made in informing new residents about their right to participate in local body elections.

When the Greens posted on its social media page that people in this category were eligible to vote, the response received was a mixture of surprise and confusion, he said.

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