Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: Referendum '11: counting the votes

41 Responses

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  • Steve Curtis,

    I have heard that for polling places with 6 or less votes cast, the results aren't released so that anonymity can be preserved . Is this true ?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 204 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Homer, in reply to Steve Curtis,

    Yes (almost). They're included in the total counts, but get listed as zero on the booth-by-booth breakdown. It's "fewer than 6" though, so places with exactly six votes do appear.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 44 posts Report Reply

  • Tristan,

    I worked on the specials desk at a polling booth in Auckland Central and we received about 150 specials and 64 of those were for Auckland Central the rest were people from out side the electorate. Some has only just moved to the electorate others were visiting Auckland. And quite a few were for North Shore, Mt Albert and Epsom our neighboring electorates (we didn't have companion rolls for our booth)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 193 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    The count of referendum votes is a lot easier than the count of general election ballots: the usual protections of traceable ballot papers weren't imposed

    I noticed this when I was voting, and it freake dme out. Why did they dispense with such a basic protection?

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1625 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    These may be special votes from people who aren’t on the printed electoral roll (because they’re on the unpublished one, or they enrolled after the rolls were closed for printing), but they also include votes cast within that electorate in respect of another electorate

    This seems particularly likely to be relevant to the marginal Christchurch electorates, where a lot of people will have left the city because they lost their jobs or their houses were too badly damaged to live in or repair. Although many will probably have re-enrolled in their new electorates, if the move is permanent. I'm really curious as to how many special votes will end up being counted in Waimakariri and Christchurch Central - quite apart from the effect on the preliminary result or lack thereof, it might give a hazy indication as to how many people now outside Christchurch still feel connected to the city and want to move back.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2092 posts Report Reply

  • HenryB, in reply to Idiot Savant,

    It is sloppy and not ideal practice but I suppose one would have to either cast a second vote in ones own name (thus cancelling out all ones votes except the referendum vote?) or use someone else's on the electoral roll. To have any significant effect on the final result this would have had to have been orchestrated so well it would be hard to imagine it.

    Palmerston North • Since Sep 2008 • 106 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to HenryB,

    It is sloppy and not ideal practice but I suppose one would have to either cast a second vote in ones own name (thus cancelling out all ones votes except the referendum vote?) or use someone else’s on the electoral roll. To have any significant effect on the final result this would have had to have been orchestrated so well it would be hard to imagine it.

    And this is why efforts to stem voter fraud that focus on identity theft - the most difficult, least effective, and least prevalent form - are just voter suppression in disguise. Having to show photo ID to vote does not make democracy better, it makes it worse.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2092 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    How many double votes get found in a typical election? And do the miscreants get prosecuted (I've never seen such a case reported)? (Although I guess it would be hard to distinguish between someone voting twice in their own name or someone using a false name).

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4361 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    And do the miscreants get prosecuted (I've never seen such a case reported)?

    They do get investigated and prosecuted. Sometimes the dual votes aren't corrupt: often people who advance vote from a resthome, and whose kids pick them up on voting day to vote in person, who may be confused about whether they've voted (or whose kids think they're confused when they say they've already voted!)

    I knew the number last election, but can't remember it. Maybe 80-100? Think I'll ask after the official count is completed.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    (Although I guess it would be hard to distinguish between someone voting twice in their own name or someone using a false name).

    That's what police detectives are for!

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Idiot Savant,

    I noticed this when I was voting, and it freake dme out. Why did they dispense with such a basic protection?

    Money. They considered the expense was not worth the benefit. Dual votes will still be caught, so most of the disincentives (e.g. prison) remain, and the likelihood of a vote decided by a few hundred dual votes at most is low. It's also non-binding, so if there are major concerns, Parliament can inquire before deciding what to do about it.

    I did submit in favour of additional protections, and would have made stronger representations in respect of a second binding referendums, but I found the decision in respect of scrutineers to be the more confounding. They're free!

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    What would the expense have actually been? The ballots get numbered, so there's a tiny printing cost, and the scrutineers write the number down for each person that gets a ballot, which is free (but might take a little bit of time). Is there something else I'm missing?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Idiot Savant,

    Why did they dispense with such a basic protection?

    Did anyone cast a referendum vote without at the same time casting an election vote where the usual protections applied?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16279 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to BenWilson,

    The ballots get numbered, so there’s a tiny printing cost, and the scrutineers write the number down for each person that gets a ballot

    Just to nit-pick, they bloody do not. They're allowed to write down the page and line number of the voter on the electoral roll. They're certainly not entitled to know the number of your ballot paper.

    Did anyone cast a referendum vote without at the same time casting an election vote where the usual protections applied?

    I can't think how that could have possibly happened.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4328 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Just to nit-pick, they bloody do not. They're allowed to write down the page and line number of the voter on the electoral roll. They're certainly not entitled to know the number of your ballot paper.

    Can I then ask how it could possibly be feasible to challenge anyone's vote? If it is not possible to work out who I voted for, wouldn't it be in my interests in a close election to go "Oh, yes, I guess I do spend more time in New Lynn than Waitakere, technically. Oh, and I voted National, I guess you better strike off one vote for them, eh?"

    ETA: I don't know exactly what the mechanism is, by which votes can be challenged, I simply posited that possibility as the most obvious one. Please enlighten me, if you do know the mechanism. That's gotta tap into some nit-picky karmatic goodness?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Sacha,

    Did anyone cast a referendum vote without at the same time casting an election vote where the usual protections applied?

    Referenda don't necessarily happen at the same time as elections, though, do they? I seem to remember one in the mid-90s about (wikipedia to the rescue!) the fire service happening between elections. So perhaps we should have the usual protections in place.

    Beijing • Since Jan 2007 • 1965 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    Referenda don't necessarily happen at the same time as elections, though, do they?

    No, but it did this time. Hence one layer of verification might be enough when the impact of any errors/fraud in the referendum would be way more diluted than for electorate votes.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16279 posts Report Reply

  • Rachel Prosser,

    Did anyone cast a referendum vote without at the same time casting an election vote where the usual protections applied?

    The only way this could happen would be if they chose not to vote with the first paper and smuggled it out without the polling staff picking up on it. Training for polling place staff was very clear - don't hand over either vote individually - hand them both over together.

    Admittedly, this was in part to stop people grabbing their parliamentary vote and hightailing it for the screens without collecting the referendum paper - much more likely scenario was that people didn't want to vote in the referendum (there were scripting guides on the back of the table sign to help the issuing officer answer that very question)

    Christchurch • Since Mar 2008 • 225 posts Report Reply

  • Rachel Prosser,

    Also, the margin of error for double votes in a referendum - which is counted nationwide - was such that a tie is more unlikely.

    Statisticians may come to the rescue on that.

    BTW - who knows the probability of a tie with 14593 votes each?

    Christchurch • Since Mar 2008 • 225 posts Report Reply

  • Rachel Prosser,

    but I found the decision in respect of scrutineers to be the more confounding. They’re free!

    So what's the position with scruitneers - not permitted?

    And what about opening special vote declarations etc - scrutineers allowed there?

    Christchurch • Since Mar 2008 • 225 posts Report Reply

  • Rachel Prosser,

    Also, by the by, one of the useful things about a late election is that counting the votes is a useful job for students who have finished studying.

    Christchurch • Since Mar 2008 • 225 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to BenWilson,

    If it is not possible to work out who I voted for

    That it's not possible to work out who you voted for is one of the basic corner-stones of our electoral system. And in New Zealand, thankfully, we weight this more highly than preventing possible voter fraud.

    The scrutineers (whose job should be not to check up on voters, but to examine the behaviour of Issuing Officers) get the page and line number. That's also written on the stub of the ballot paper. On the stub of the ballot paper is the serial number of the ballot paper. This is also on the ballot paper, but covered by a black sticker.

    So I guess, and Rachel probably knows more than I do, if someone has a concern, the ballot papers for that voter could be tracked down by removing all the black stickers from every paper and looking for the corresponding number.

    Thing is, and I mean to touch on this in the column I'm writing at the moment, it would be very, very easy to carry out small to medium scale voter fraud in New Zealand. Our biggest protection is quite simply our national mentality, to which such an action would run completely counter.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4328 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Emma Hart,

    That it's not possible to work out who you voted for is one of the basic corner-stones of our electoral system. And in New Zealand, thankfully, we weight this more highly than preventing possible voter fraud.

    But you just described exactly how to find out. Peel off the sticker on the ballot, read the number, look up the stub with that number, read the page and line number, then look up the person.

    The method is a bit more circuitous than what I described, and that's a good thing, it makes casual prying near impossible. But, and this is the point I was asking, it's not expensive. So it's not really justified not to do it, on cost alone, when the outcome of not being able to do it might possibly mean having to run the entire referendum all over again, because it would be impossible to be sure if it was fair in a close run thing.

    Mind you, the logistics of recounting a nationwide referendum and then challenging practically every voter in the country, make me see why they figured it's a cost saving that no one is ever really going to care about.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to BenWilson,

    it makes casual prying near impossible

    You have to have the ballot paper. What kind of "casual prying" involves stealing ballot papers?

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4328 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    The only reason I was sure that it is possible to track people down (without knowing the mechanism) is that a cousin of mine who lived with my family for a while was in the Wairarapa when the famous one-vote majority for Wyatt Creech was returned, and was challenged in court by Reg Boorman as a student living in Wellington to prove that he really had the right to vote in the electorate. This happened to many people. There would be no point in a challenge if it was impossible to know which way the person had voted.

    He also told me a friend of his from a staunch Labour family also found out that their son had lied about voting in the election, telling all his mates that it didn't matter if you voted, the differences were always huge, and he'd gone off and got stoned instead. Apparently he copped an emotional thrashing for it for years from his dad. Silly really, Labour thrashed National overall. It always struck me as a good story about intergenerational perspectives on voter apathy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

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