Better late than never

February 11th, 2012 at 2:05 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett reports at NZ Herald:

Labour’s deputy leader said Parliament should consider changing the process of dealing with electoral law breaches to speed it up – including giving the powers to fine or penalise for some breaches.

Mr Robertson said the Electoral Commission was the expert body on electoral law, yet it had to send any breaches to to decide whether to act on them.

I’ve been advocating this for years, including in submission to select committees. Sadly, Labour never voted in favour of changing the law.

While their sudden enthusiasm to do so, seems rather opportunistic, it is the right thing to do.

“The bigger issue is the number of complaints they’ve sent to the Police that nothing has happened with. So maybe there is another way. For instance, could you set a threshold under which the Electoral Commission was able to impose some sort of penalty rather than have to have Police prosecute it.”

Time and time again the Police have shown, with all due respect, a total disinterest in enforcing electoral law (the most notorious case being the non charging of Labour over their $400,000 deliberate over-spend in 2005). They would obviously rather be catching muggers  etc.

Even worse, the Police seem to have a deliberate policy to not decide on any complaints until after the election. They see this as not interfering with the election, but it is in fact a worse form of interference. It means parties and candidates and others can breach electoral laws, and not have to worry about the stigma of being charged prior to the election. This encourages rule breaking.

I will once again be submitting to change the law to the 2011 election review later this year. I look forward to Labour voting for removing the Police from any role in electoral law enforcement, and other parties doing the same.

What should happen is that the Electoral Commission itself can levy small fines for relatively minor issues such as late returns and the like, or missing promoter statements on ads that still have a clear author. For more major issues they should be able to lay charges directly with the courts.

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16 Responses to “Better late than never”

  1. Johnboy (16,495 comments) says:

    “Allo allo allo Ms Clark.”

    “I’m afraid you will have to come along with me to the station.”

    “Why officer?”

    “A little matter of forgery of a painting.”

    “Don’t you realise officer that I appoint your boss the Comissioner? ”

    ” Ah, in that case Madam could you please autograph my truncheon then if you would be so kind? ” :)

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  2. backster (2,171 comments) says:

    DALJIT SINGH………39 fradulent voters at one address during Auckland Mayoralty election, 300 suspect enrolments, 30 detectives involved in enquiry over a year ago. Whats the result?

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  3. rolla_fxgt (311 comments) says:

    Agree with your proposal 100%, but make it a separate stand alone branch divided off from the electoral commission, so they aren’t tarred with the inevitable charge of political bias from someone who is prosecuted.
    My preference would be for it to be a division of the ministy of justice, perhaps with a high court judge overseeing it, and deciding entirely on prosecution matters

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  4. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    I do like the idea, but there are some problems with it:

    the police have investigative and prosecutorial expertise, I’m guessing no-one at the Electoral Commission knows how to conduct an evidential interview, how to prepare a disclosure packet, or when to read a Bill of Rights warning. And getting enough people up to speed to enable timely and thorough investigations at peak times would be quite a resource intensive exercise, that would, frankly, be a waste of money.

    The idea that the body responsible for issuing non-binding advisory opinions, and helping people comply with the law, would also be the body deciding whether those advisory opinions were correct is also problematic.

    That said, there are a number of things that would make things simpler. Making some of the more minor offences (returns late by only a few days are a good example) infringement offences (or simply allowing the EC to charge a “late fee”) could free up a fair bit of police time.

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  5. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    “What should happen is that the Electoral Commission itself can levy small fines for relatively minor issues such as late returns and the like, or missing promoter statements on ads that still have a clear author. For more major issues they should be able to lay charges directly with the courts.”

    Graeme is right that if the Commission took on this role, it would have to give up its advisory role. Of course, that may be a good thing in itself … .

    Further, if we’re REALLY going to see the Commission become the primary enforcer of electoral law, then it’ll need the same sort of powers that (say) the Commerce Commission has: http://www.comcom.govt.nz/carrying-out-an-investigation/. Plus, while you can have someone whose job it is to just chase after possible breaches of electoral law (like here: http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=abo&dir=com/bck&document=index&lang=e), you need to build up an infrastructure around her/him that don’t come cheap.

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  6. gravedodger (1,566 comments) says:

    I think a “Star Chamber” would be a good system Winnie could hold the NO sign in his gums.

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  7. BeaB (2,123 comments) says:

    Or, better still, just get rid of most of the rules. If I don’t like how a party or candidate is behaving then i can choose not to vote for them. I don’t give a toss if there’s a name on the ad or not. Unnecessary laws that only occupy fanatics like Edgeler and those who want to restrict our freedom of speech.

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  8. Johnboy (16,495 comments) says:

    Your awfully naughty BeaB. But I like you! :)

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  9. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    ” If I don’t like how a party or candidate is behaving then i can choose not to vote for them. I don’t give a toss if there’s a name on the ad or not.”

    But how will you know how a party or candidate is behaving? Imagine a situation where, in the week before the election, the CTU spends $1 million on TV ads that say “John Key’s National Party has ruined NZ and if he’s reelected will sell all NZ’s state assets the the Chinese. The Chinese! Under National, they’re going to own everything!!!” without anything on the ads to say who is behind them/how they were paid for/whose view they represent. The Labour/Green/NZ First bloc then beat National/ACT/UF by 1% and become the next Government. You are, I assume, quite OK with this outcome and prepared to accept that new Government as entirely legitimate and entitled to rule for the next 3 years?

    Also, with regards Graeme, I think you’re mixing expertise with fanaticism. Unless, of course, you also think that Dan Carter is a fanatic at kicking a rugby ball? Or Mozart was a fanatic at composing?

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  10. BeaB (2,123 comments) says:

    Well you know AG I think even a moron would see through that ad. I know we voters are meant to be dumb but come on…
    I don’t know your mate Graeme at all except for seeing him on telly the other night in a very ill-fitting jacket but he really is a bit of a pedant. These madly intricate and complex laws and commissions and authorities and all the panoply of quangos and rules made by people who think we need protecting from ourselves – you really do have to be a bit of a fanatic to think it has much value at all. You’d be better off sitting in the sun with a good book. As I have said before, no wonder so many can’t be bothered to vote with all this mumbo jumbo.

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  11. burt (8,269 comments) says:

    The police just need to charge them and let the courts decide… novel concept I know. Hey Mr plod, remember “No fear or favour” – though not.

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  12. burt (8,269 comments) says:

    Graeme

    (returns late by only a few days are a good example) infringement offences (or simply allowing the EC to charge a “late fee”) could free up a fair bit of police time.

    …a fair bit of police time…. It so much effort to say ‘not in the public interest to prosecute….. Yes lets save them that.

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  13. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    “Well you know AG I think even a moron would see through that ad.”

    That wasn’t the question, BeaB. The question was, would you accept a narrow win by Labour’s side as being legitimate if the election campaign contained such a large scale anonymous smear campaign against National?

    Also, once again, you seem to confuse knowing something about a topic with approval of it. Or, to put it another way, do you think Anthony Beevor is in favour of mass world war (and the Nazi regime in particular) just because he happens to be an expert on the topic?

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  14. BeaB (2,123 comments) says:

    Not very different from the dancing cossacks perhaps.

    But really I can see why you and Graeme get on so well. Life is much simpler in my live and let live world.

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  15. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    @BeaB: “Not very different from the dancing cossacks perhaps.”

    Except that everyone knew that this was a National Party ad, so (whether it was accurate or not) could evaluate it in that light. My point is aimed at your claim “I don’t give a toss if there’s a name on the ad or not.” You really don’t think that in your ideal world where there are no rules on election advertising, people (especially people on this blogsite) would care if the CTU spent $1 million without revealing their identity on TV ads telling lies about National … where the Labour-led parties then wing a close election? Really? Really??

    “Life is much simpler in my live and let live world.”

    So when you say “You’d be better off sitting in the sun with a good book”, you’re not trying to tell people how to live? Let me rewrite it for you: “I happen to like sitting in the sun with a good book. Other people have other interests, including gaining some expertise in the field of electoral law. Both pursuits are OK, because I’m a live and let live kind of person.”

    There. That’s better.

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  16. BeaB (2,123 comments) says:

    Gosh thanks, AG.

    But I think even we plebs could work out an anti-National ad might have been paid for by National’s opponents.

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