Police and electoral law

Idiot/Savant at NRT blogs:

In 2007 Parliament passed the Electoral Finance Act. One of the changes it made to our electoral law, retained in the subsequent amendments, was to massively increase the penalties for electoral offences. The penalty for a corrupt practice was doubled, from one to two years imprisonment. That for an illegal practice was increased from a $3,000 to a $40,000 fine. The message was clear: Parliament took electoral offending seriously.

Meanwhile, have stopped prosecuting them entirely.

According to an OIA sent via the FYI system, not a single case resulting from the last election or subsequent by-elections has resulted in prosecution. Instead, police have dealt with even clear cases of double voting with warnings. Eighteen months ago they hadn’t even done that, so its hard to see it as anything other than a conscious push to clear cases off the books, to tick the “resolved” box so the stats look good.

The police’s excuse is that offenders are mostly first-timers and that warnings are appropriate. That may be true in the case of double voters (but even so…). But its certainly not true in the case of political parties violating advertising and donations law.

The Police have failed to do anything for the 2005, 2008 and 2011 elections. Under my version of three strikes, they should be out, and prosecution should transfer to another entity. Even worse than their failure to investigate cases, is the fact they when they did investigate (in 2005) they totally misinterpreted the law, made the most basic errors, and didn’t even understand concepts such as strict liability.

It is time for things to change. When Parliament reviews the 2014 election, they should recommend that the Police no longer be the body to make decision on electoral law prosecutions. It should either go to Crown Law, or rest with the Electoral Commission itself. Also the Electoral Commission should have the power to issue minor fines for minor breaches.

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