Hard News by Russell Brown


Unusual Democracy

Here's a nightmare for Kiwiblog readers: the vote-counting system for the 2008 New Zealand general election is run by a senior Labour Party official. On election night, the government website that updates the official vote tally is, in a highly unusual move, redirected to a server farm that is otherwise occupied by partisan left-wing websites, including helenclark.co.nz, the official Labour campaign website, where it is under the control of Labour Party officials.

The farm is also home to servers associated with the private email system used by senior Parliamentary officials for the Labour Party. (These will later become controversial during an investigation into claims that police and judicial officials unwilling to pursue charges against the National Party for breaches of electoral law in the same election have been forced out of their jobs by Attorney General David Parker. The inquiry will be told that many thousands of relevant emails have simply been "lost".)

Although the votes will never be independently accounted, a number of unusual things happen. Just before midnight, the Labour Party-controlled "official" site shows a narrow but growing lead for National. TV commentators begin to talk about the impending era of John Key, and the rebuilding task facing the Labour Party.

But the official count freezes for 90 minutes. TV commentators run out of things to say. When the count comes back, things have changed: Helen Clark is in the lead she will keep to claim a historic fourth term.

But there are some strange results. Even though the voters of Pakuranga deliver Maurice Williamson his inevitable thumping majority, 10,500 of those voters are recorded by the Labour-controlled vote-counting system as having given their party vote to … Labour.

In at least two other electorates, only party votes for Labour are returned in the last two hours they are open, suggesting that the last few hundred people to vote in those electorates all voted for Labour and not any other party. In those cases, the one-way late votes are enough to tip the result Labour's way.

There are also hundreds of "phantom" votes, at polling places where the number of ballots available for counting are inexplicably lower than the number of people recorded as voting. In other electorates the number of voter is thousands fewer than the number of people recorded as voting. The irregularity will later be discovered by a PhD statistician from Auckland university - after he has waited a year for the release of the records. For the meantime, Labour wins all of these electorates.

Thousands of voter registrations recorded in the system will subsequently come to be regarded as fraudulent. They have all apparently been made on the same day in 1977, in Auckland Central.

A report by National Party researchers, Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in 2008, will later cite many other unusual, even impossible, results. Ten thousand votes are mysteriously added to the total just before counting closes in Dunedin North. Waitakere mayor and former Labour Party President Bob Harvey declares a state of emergency in his city, under which security staff are ordered to take ballots to a police-guarded unauthorized warehouse to be counted away from public scrutiny, despite local media protests.

A furious campaign by blogger David Farrar will keep the issue alive, but it is largely ignored by the New Zealand Herald and other key mainstream media organisations.

Well, that, with certain liberties as regards scale and systems, is pretty much what happened in Ohio in the 2004 US presidential election, as explained on TomPaine.com (hat tip: Adam Bogacki) by the authors of a new book, What Happened in Ohio? A documentary record of theft and fraud in the 2004 election. Ohio was, of course, the state that turned the presidency.

Much of what is in the book has been known or suspected for some time: even Christopher Hitchens was moved to declare that Ohio stank of something. You can see the history of the redirects and check out the Sourcewatch page on Smartech, the Republican Party's hosting company.

Even if there's an explanation for the outsourcing of election systems to the Republican Party's internet operation (as Slashdot post points out, it happened again in 2006) that doesn't involve electoral fraud, it's still recklessly inappropriate.

Slashdot also has a thread on the five million missing White House emails, many of them related to domains managed by Smartech.

This wouldn't matter so much, of course, if the US presidency didn't have such an impact on the rest of the world. But if, indeed, something was rotten in Ohio, and in the wider conduct of affairs around Karl Rove, then perhaps there's a poetry to it. Bush bundled out in 2004 would have preserved something of his reputation. There seems little prospect of that now.

Perhaps we should just leave it to the Daily Show's brilliant little Bush v Bush bit this week.


Campbell Smith was back before a select committee yesterday, this time with his Big Day Out hat on and asking for restrictions on ticket scalping at "major" events to be extended to big concerts. I certainly have some sympathy there; organised scalping is a tawdry business. But people do have months in which to purchase Big day Out tickets.

That's not the case for big rugby games. The bill is, of course, aimed at regulating trade in tickets to World Cup rugby matches. But you know what practice really prevents me, as an ordinary punter, from buying tickets (more specifically: tickets anywhere but the terraces) to rugby test matches?

It's the NZRU's regular practice of selling blocks of tickets, in advance of public sales, to "hospitality" companies that toss in food, drink and a tent (none of which have anything to do with rugby) as an excuse to resell those tickets at a vastly inflated price: like $300 for an uncovered seat or $500 if you 're wild enough to want a covered seat. As a punter, I don't see a functional difference between that and scalping.

The Major Events Management Bill also, of course, cracks down on streakers at major events. This is sledgehammer-and-nut stuff, intended to protect sponsors' investment from guerrilla marketing. But then I read this twaddle from bikini streaker and professional attention-seeker Lisa Lewis:

Her submission, released to the Herald, proposes organised mass bikini-streaks at the end of major sporting events to remove the danger of renegade streakers.

It says streaking added to the excitement at a game, and should be permitted, "with some ground rules".

A bikini "run" at the end of a game could become an institution similar to "the competition at the horse races of hats and best dressed".

She also believed the threatened three-month jail sentence would be "celebrated as a badge of honour".

"Imagine the heroic connotations of being the first person who plucks up the guts to do it anyway."

And I think: Just piss off, you silly tart.

Congratulations to No Right Turn for the swift success of his Sedition law repeal pledge. You can still sign up. More from NRT on the move to get sedition off the books here and here.

If you didn't catch it, the economists arguing about exchange rates and policy on Morning Report today was sort of interesting, if hardly encouraging.

SJD's new song, 'Beautiful Haze' is just possibly the best thing they've ever done - I have been plaguing my family by singing along to it (which is at least, better than me singing along to the Fall's 'Hit the North', which caused my darling to think there was something terribly wrong in the kitchen). Until the new album comes out you can listen to the song at the group's MySpace page.

And, finally, with Leo and Colin on hiatus for reasons that are not clear to me, I commend to you the current big thing: the cat on YouTube that plays piano.

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