Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler


Election Fact Check #3: It shouldn't be this way

The Listener has an excellent and pithy feature evaluating some MMP myths. I think they've done a good job, but there is a glaring error, and it's one that has been made a lot.

New Zealand First did not get 4.7% of the party vote at the 2008 election! They got 4.07%. That missing zero represents over 14,000 votes. That's substantially more than the vote difference between NZF and ACT, and in an article devoted to myth-busting, it's kinda funny that no-one checked.

Far more concerning is today's Fairfax/Stuff piece: "Your choice: a guide to the election". Telling people who are eligible to vote that they are not eligible to vote is just wrong.

The article asks:

Who can vote?

About three million people are eligible to vote. To enrol you must be over 18, a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident and have lived here for one or more years. You can't vote if you have been a compulsory patient in a hospital or secure facility for longer than three years. A new law passed last year disqualifies people sentenced to a jail term from voting.

Starting from the top:

1. You can provisionally enrol at 17, so that if you turn 18 before the election you can still vote.

2. People who have been (but are no longer) compulsory patients in a mental hospital or secure facility can vote.

3. People who are currently compulsory patients in a mental hospital can vote, even if they've been there for longer than three years. The only compulsory detainees prevented from voting are those committed following a criminal process (e.g. not guilty by reason of insanity, or not fit to stand trial) and committed for more than three years. People who have been committed as a result of Family Court processes because they are mentally disturbed and a danger to themselves or others can vote.

4. While Parliament did amend the law around prisoner voting, it did not disqualify people sentenced to jail from voting. If you've been in jail, and have been released or paroled,* you can vote. The law was also not completely retrospective, so if you're in jail for three years or less having been sentenced before 16 December 2011 you can also vote. And if you were were sentenced under the Armed Forces Discipline Act and are in a service prison or other penal establishment, not a civilian prison, you can vote.

* I wanted this out quickly, and haven't had the time to fully confirm, but I believe this may even include weekend leaves, and don't even rule out that those unlawfully at large can enrol and vote.

The article continues:

What if I can't get to a polling place in my electorate?

You can cast a special declaration vote at any polling place and must apply in advance to a returning officer for the papers. Voting facilities are also provided for eligible voters who are in hospitals, maternity homes or rest homes.

You do not need to apply in advance to cast a special declaration vote at a polling place outside your electorate on election day (although voting this way does take a fair bit longer, so you may wish instead to cast an advance vote).

Mistakes about what the Royal Commission actually said, and what the threshold is for Israeli elections will happen. I may point them out, but the effect really isn't that major, and I'll get over it. But information about how voting works is really important to get right. I don't doubt that these were good faith errors, but particularly for something as important as the right to vote, I think we've all got an obligation to make sure people aren't misinformed. I don't want to be overly negative, but please get stuff like this right, and please check if you're not sure: there was a lot of good in the article, and I don't want it undone.

The advice about enrolling is an excellent public service, and a nice place to end:

How do I vote?

Enrol online at https:/

You will receive an Easyvote card in the mail. On election day go to a polling station between 9am and 7pm. Present the card or a letter from the Electoral Commission chief electoral officer. You can vote without either but must give your name and address to the issuing officer.

You will then be given a ballot paper and directed to a private booth. Tick the name of the political party you prefer and the candidate you most want to represent your electorate.

What is an Easyvote card?

It shows where your name is on the printed electoral roll to make it easier for polling staff to issue ballot papers.

Numbers on the card are the page and line number of the electoral roll where your name is. If you do not enrol to vote by Writ Day (October 26) you will receive a letter from the Electoral Commission chief electoral officer, as your name won't be on the roll.

So don't forget to enrol. And don't forget to vote!

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